The History and Impact of Physical Therapy

The year was 435 BC when Hippocrates began advocating the use of massage, hydrotherapy, and manual therapy techniques to treat his patients. This is believed to have been the very first origins of what would become today’s physical therapy.

Modern physical therapy began to take shape in the late 1800s as a way to treat rampant bone disorders throughout Europe. Rapid advancements in physical therapy techniques developed with the Polio outbreak in 1916 and the onset of World War I. Wounded soldiers and also children with disabilities soon received physical therapy treatments leading to the formal incorporation of PT as a healthcare practice.

The organization that would become today’s American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) was established in 1924.  Through the 1940s, PT treatments were primarily the utilization of massage, traction, and exercises, while manipulative therapies for the joints and spine began in the 1950s.

The latter half of the 1950s saw the practice of PT move outside of the hospital environment into outpatient clinics, public school settings, rehabilitation centers, and geriatric care facilities.  Since that time, PT has continued to grow and develop as a method of treatment and like the rest of the healthcare industry is benefitting from the rapid advancements in technology.

Through the years, physical therapy has impacted millions of patients rehabilitate after an injury, surgery, or disabling condition.  PT also allows patients to avoid having surgery in the first place and contributes to allowing more of our aging population to retain their independence and movement abilities.

One of the most important benefits of physical therapy is the impact it has on helping individuals manage pain and chronic conditions. Back pain alone affects nearly one-third of our population and is a major contributor to the Opioid crisis we currently face.

Experts point to physical therapy as one potential key to solving the Opioid epidemic. Turning patients away from prescription painkillers and into a physical therapy treatment plan can play a role in reducing the misuse and abuse of pharmaceuticals.

Another impact that physical therapy has had is in the reduction of healthcare costs for consumers.  While overall the cost of healthcare has skyrocketed, physical therapy has resulted in reduced costs for patients suffering from conditions such as lower back pain, spinal stenosis, and others.  These cost reductions include the avoidance of surgery, shorter recovery times, and reduced pharmacy costs.

With October being National Physical Therapy Month, we are reminded of the good work that physical therapists are doing to be a face of caring.  Helping their patients manage chronic conditions, overcome debilitating pain, and rehabilitate from illness or injury, PTs help keep us moving.  Recognize your physical therapist this month and throughout the year as they play such an important role in the healthcare industry and in the communities where they practice.

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