What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is an allied health profession concerned with the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of disease and disability through physical means.  It is a research-based profession relying on scientific evidence to direct patient care.

What is a Physical Therapist?

A Physical Therapist is a licensed health care professional who provides services to help restore, maintain, and promote overall fitness and wellness to clients suffering from injury or disease. The Physical Therapist utilizes techniques and modalities that help relieve pain, restore function, improve mobility, and prevent or limit further physical disabilities.

History of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy has been mentioned throughout history. Joint manipulation and massage was used in ancient China around 3000 BC and the ancient Greeks advocated the use of massage and water therapy as early as 460 B.C.

In 1914, the first American colleges started producing graduates to work in the field of physical rehabilitation and a great deal was learned through the rehabilitation of injured servicemen during both World Wars.  During World War II, drastic improvements in medical management and surgical techniques led to increasing numbers of survivors with disabling war injuries. Physical therapy practice at home and abroad was dominated by the treatment of wounded veterans, including those with amputations, burns, cold injuries, wounds, fractures, and nerve and spinal cord injuries.

The Hill Burton Act of 1946 initiated a nation-wide hospital-building program  to provide the necessary number of staffed hospital beds per 1,000 people in the US. By 1950, 65,000 hospital beds and 250 public health centers were added to the nation’s health care facilities lending to an increase in hospital-based practice for Physical Therapists.

Since the 1950s, the role of the Physical Therapist has progressed from that of a technician to that of a professional practitioner. During this time, increasing numbers of states enacted state licensure laws for Physical Therapists. Additionally, Physical Therapists began to move outside of the hospital to practice in a variety of settings including outpatient orthopedic clinics, public schools, universities and skilled nursing centers.

Presently, Physical Therapists are among the most knowledgeable healthcare  professionals concerning orthopedic and neurological conditions.  After graduating from an accredited program offering a Master of Science or a Doctoral degree in Physical Therapy, a physical therapist must pass a state licensure exam before he or she can practice.

Early Physical Therapy Room