Guest Post: Here’s A Brief Look At The History of Physical Therapy


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Physical therapy, which is a unique treatment approach for healing musculoskeletal and neuromuscular conditions has a rich history that dates back to 460 BC. Used nowadays for treating conditions like hip fracture, backaches, neck pain, shoulder injuries, foot and ankle pain, and headaches etc., physical therapy is not a new treatment method as most people think. Yes, physical therapy had been used by people belonging to different civilizations for managing pain and healing injuries for ages.

Whether you talk about ancient Greeks, Parisians, Egyptians or Chinese they all had been using physical therapy to treat the pain caused by injuries and prolonged illnesses for centuries. With the passage of time physical therapy continued to evolve and today it’s a very renowned form of treating a wide range of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular conditions.

In fact, nowadays most people rely only on physical therapy techniques like massage therapy, aquatic therapy, manual therapy, laser therapy, dry needling, and Kinesio taping etc., to treat their pain and to restore their functions quickly. Today a wide range of physical therapy clinics are mushrooming across the world because they provide non-surgical, drug-free and non-invasive treatments for healing pain and injuries. If you talk particularly about the US, a wide range of people rely on physical therapy clinics like New York Rehab Experts to treat conditions like back pain, shoulder problems, joint injuries, and nerve problems.

But physical therapy in ancient time was all about treating pain and discomfort that stems from injuries and illnesses with the assistance of exercise.
Given below is a brief account of the history of physical therapy which will enhance your understanding of its growth and evolution over the years.

History of Physical Therapy – Contributions of Greek Physicians

Hippocrates – A Very Renowned Greek Physician

When you discuss the history of physical therapy you can’t afford to ignore the contributions of Hippocrates – who was one of the most important Greek physicians. Yes, he was the first physician in the world who produced the written account of physical therapy way back in 460 BC.

He was the first physician, who brought the idea of manual manipulation to heal pain and discomfort caused by a wide range of conditions.

Galen – A Surgeon, Philosopher, and Physician

Another prominent Greek physician who contributed a lot in this area is a Galen. Both Hippocrates and Galen used to treat their patients with physical therapy techniques. They used techniques like hydrotherapy, massage therapy and manual therapy to heal the patients experiencing huge pain and discomfort. Born in a wealthy family, Galen was well-educated and he contributed a lot in the field of medicine.

Contributions of Persian, Chinese & Egyptians

The significance of physical activities like massage and exercise in alleviating pain and discomfort, and in restoring physical fitness is also found in ancient Chinese texts. In addition to that, the account of physical therapy is also found in ancient Persian and Egyptian texts. In short, people belonging to different cultures and geographical areas had been using techniques like massage and exercises to improve their physical fitness and to reduce pain caused by musculoskeletal conditions.

Evolution of Physical Therapy in 19th Century

In the 19th-century, physical therapy evolved like anything and it was the time when several popular personalities (physical therapists) came into the picture. Per Henrik Ling is one of the most popular physical therapy practitioners of the 19th century. In 1813 he established the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics or RCIG. He was known as the Father of Swedish Gymnastics, because of his enormous contributions in this field.

The year 1887 was very important for physical therapists because the National Board of Health and Welfare of Sweden gave them official registration.

The work in the field of physical therapy also started in Great Britain in the 19th century. Yes, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy was established in Great Britain in the year 1894. It was established by four nurses.

Evolution of Physical Therapy in 20th Century

At the beginning of 20th century, the work in the field of physical therapy started in New Zealand. In the year 1913, the School of Physiotherapy was established in New Zealand. It was established by the University of Otago to promote the physiotherapy.

The United States of America was also doing great in this direction during the 20th century. In 1914 Reed College was found in the state of Oregon, the US to teach physical therapy.

Physical therapy was used extensively to treat the patients struggling with injuries during World War I. In addition to that, the demand for physical therapy increased like anything during the 1920s when people were struggling with polio. A large number of physical therapists were required to save people from this highly contagious disease.

The American Physical Therapy Association was established by the end of 1930. It was originally started as American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association in 1921 by Mary McMillan who was known as the Mother of Physical Therapy.

After that physical therapy was used widely in hospitals to treat people suffering from injuries.

In 1974 the Orthopedic Section was established in the APTA which proved to be very helpful for physical therapists. At present, APTA recognizes speciality sections like oncology, acute care, aquatic physical therapy, cardiopulmonary and pulmonary, geriatrics, women’s health, pediatrics, and sports physical therapy etc.

By the end of the 1970s, the demand for physical therapy services increased even more and that was the time when physical therapists began to form their own independent clinics to treat patients struggling with conditions like neck injuries, back pain, shoulder problems, and foot and ankle issues etc.

Nowadays, physical therapists are treating a wide range of injuries and illnesses. Whether you talk about sports injuries, workplace injuries or pain caused by diseases like arthritis, physical therapy is the best way to deal your condition. It plays a crucial role in reducing pain, dealing with physical symptoms of injuries like swelling, and in enhancing the natural healing system of the body. So, if you are struggling with pain and are unable to carry out your routine activities, you must consult a licensed physical therapist soon.

About The Author:

David is a graduate student and also a writer.. He loves to write on health related issues, music and all about travel..When he is not writing, you can find him at the coffee shop.. Hit David up on twitter at @dmilsont!

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