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Physical Therapy History

Celebrating the Achievements of Physical Therapy

October is National Chiropractic and Physical Therapy Month, and it’s a big deal to all of us here at BC + PT. Our chiropractors and physical therapists work so hard to help our patients on their journeys back to better health and healing. The history of chiropractic had a lot of ups and downs from the practice, and like any conservative care model, the history of physical therapy has also had its successes and losses.

Did you know that physical therapy was founded by women? Modern physical therapy was brought to life out of necessity due to the effects of war, specifically World War 1. Nurses (who were almost exclusively female at the time) and what were called “reconstruction aides” were challenged to care for those who were initially wounded as a result of the war. Treatments were primarily isolation, splinting, and bed rest. One of the founders of modern physical therapy was Mary McMillan, who later shared her ideas, and eventually formed the first national association for physical therapy in the US- and was even elected their first president.

Women In the Lead

Mary and her colleagues wanted to make sure that the advancements that they learned during the war were preserved, which is why they formed the AWPTA (American Women’s PhysioTherapy Association) in 1924. Only a year later did they decide to change it to APTA, dropping the gender restriction to bolster their numbers- and it worked! The association grew to include men and doubled in size.

The main treatments they focused on in the early days were massage, traction (where you put tension on a displaced joint to help it back into place, usually with a pulley and weights), and exercises, while more hands-on manipulative therapies began later on in the 1950’s. The study of physical therapy was mostly centered around hospitals and wound care- its primary patients were soldiers just out of surgery or those with long-term injuries. There was a big boom to physical therapy at this time because of the government and propaganda of alternative ways to help your country. Everyone was fighting for the war effort, and one of the ways that they wanted and needed help was in healing our boys overseas.

In the post-war 1950’s, the physical therapy setting started to change. Physical therapists began to expand their treatment locations to clinics, public school settings, rehabilitation centers and geriatric care facilities. Through their studies, they found that physical therapy also helped those with chronic illnesses and long-term injuries. As recognition of this care model began to spread and more and more people were profoundly helped and healed, the 1960’s and 1970’s showed increased physical therapy programs and the start of bachelor’s and master’s degrees for the now incorporated healthcare practice, including specialty certifications (BC + PT’s own Dr. Alec LaVere, for example, has a specialized certification in treating carpal tunnel syndrome).

Changing the medical industry

As technology advanced, so too did the positive effects of physical therapy on society, and more and more people have become trained, licensed and educated physical therapists. Physical therapy helped people after surgery, injuries, or disabling conditions, to rehabilitate in a controlled environment. They even helped benefit some patients to avoid surgery, and with more people living longer lives, physical therapists have helped our aging population to keep their independence and movement abilities.

There are also some experts that fully believe that physical therapy helped the opioid crisis back in the 1990’s. By helping patients with pain management and turning them away from using painkillers, physical therapists helped play a role in reducing the misuse of these drugs. This also was a more cost-effective solution for many patients who could now avoid surgery, recover quicker, and reduce the costs of their prescriptions.

In 1992, the APTA announced October as National Physical Therapy month, with the theme of “Back In Action With Physical Therapy”. In 1996, the first 48 students would graduate with their doctorate in physical therapy. Through so many changes, so much history, and many decades of providing care to patients in need, physical therapy has really expanded and has been able to benefit many different people with many different ailments.

Having the benefit of both amazing physical therapists and chiropractors here at BC + PT really does make a difference on your wellness journey. Start off your National Chiropractic and Physical Therapy Month the right way by thanking your chiropractor and physical therapist for all the work they do in their communities. If you are experiencing pain from an injury, accident, or daily life’s activities, schedule an appointment today by giving us a call today, or filling out this form to see what physical therapy can do for you!


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