The History of Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy - body in action

Physical therapy was first practiced by Hippocrates and then Galen, in 460 BC who advocated massage, manual therapy techniques and hydrotherapy as forms of treatment.

The earliest documented use of physical therapy dates back to 1813 to the RCIG (Royal Institute of Gymnastics).  It was used by Henrik Ling, “Father of Swedish Gymnastics” who founded the RCIG for manipulation and exercise.  “Sjukgymnast”, the Swedish word for physical therapist (someone involved in gymnastics for treatment of the ill) but was then changed to “fysioterapeut” (physiotherapis) in 2014.

Other countries soon followed Sweden; The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy was formed in 1894 (started by four nurses in Great Britain); The School of Physiotherapy at the University of Otago in New Zealand in 1913, and the United States’ 1914 Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Spinal manipulative therapy has now become a vital component of physical therapy.

Towards the end of the 19th century, modern physical therapy had been established and soon American orthopedic surgeons began using women trained in physical education and remedial exercise to treat children with disabilities.  These treatments were applied and promoted further during the Polio outbreak of 1916. A “Reconstruction Aide” was the term coined for individuals who practiced physical therapy in 1918. Women were employed to restore physical function to injured solders during the First World War.

The early 1950’s saw manipulation procedures to the spine and joints being practiced in the British Commonwealth countries.  In North America and Europe, physical therapists were a routine sight in hospitals around the time polio vaccines were developed.

The late 1950’s saw physical therapists moving to outpatient orthopedic clinics, public schools, colleges/universities, health centres, nursing facilities, rehabilitation centers and medical centers.  Specialization in the USA started in 1974 teh the Orhopaedic Section of the APTA formed.  The International Federation of Federation of Orthopaedic Manipulative Physical Therapists formed in the same year, and played a major role in these communities worldwide.