Although the origins of physiotherapy can be traced back thousands of years, it’s only in the last century that the importance it plays in the treatment and prevention of injury has truly come to light. Seeing as it’s hard to imagine a time when physiotherapy techniques weren’t widely known or utilised in the treatment of pain or injury, we thought it interesting to trace the history of physiotherapy to the present day.

Early History of Physiotherapy:

Historians have found evidence of treatments such as hydrotherapy, therapeutic massage and exercises being used in countries as far reaching as India and China thousands of years ago. The first true practitioners of physiotherapy, however, are widely regarded as having originated from Ancient Greece.

In 460 B.C., Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician traditionally regarded as the father of medicine, began to advocate the use of massage and manual therapy techniques for the treatment of certain conditions. In the same year, also in Greece, Hector started to employ hydrotherapy. Even Aristotel, the famous Greek philosopher, also recommended that massaging with oil could help relieve tiredness.

Following the wisdom of these early Greek physicians, ancient Greeks and Romans have long been known to use prescriptive exercise, massage, joint mobilisations, hydrotherapy, and light therapy to keep their various ailments in check.

History of Physiotherapy (1800s to 1900s)

The 1800s saw several important developments in the field of physiotherapy, starting off with the founding of the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics (RCIG) in 1813 by Per Henrik Ling. Regarded as the Father of Swedish Gymnastics, Per Henrik Ling’s Institute, in an effort to remedy the many injuries gymnasts suffered, specialised in massage, manipulation and exercise. His techniques and exercises were later extended throughout Europe and America.

Beyond this Institute, other noteworthy landmarks in the 1800s include:

  • The first use of the word ‘Physiotherapy’ in the German Language as the word ‘Physiotherapie’ by military physician Dr. Lorenz Gleich in 1851.
  • In 1894, a group of four nurses – Lucy Marianne Robinson, Rosalind Paget, Elizabeth Anne Manley and Margaret Dora Palmerin – formed the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy in Great Britain.
  • In the same year, the word ‘Physiotherapy’ was coined in the English Language by an English physician Dr. Edward Playter in the Montreal Medical Journal – after 43 years of the German term ‘Physiotherapie’. “The application  of these natural remedies, the essentials of life, as above named, may be termed natural therapeutics. Or, if I may be permitted  to coin from the Greek a new term, for I have never observed it in print, a term more in accordance with medical nomenclature than the word hygienic treatment commonly used, I would suggest the term, Physiotherapy”.

It wasn’t until the 1900s, though, that the field of physiotherapy truly started to establish any sort of coherence.

History of Physiotherapy (1900s to 2000s)

The 1900s witnessed a number of landmark advancements in the field of physiotherapy, many of which coming to fruition as an outcome of the outbreak of two world wars, the outbreak of polio, and the advent of computers and new technology in the healthcare industry. Some of the most notable milestones include:

  • The establishment of The School of Physiotherapy in 1913 at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
  • The establishment of Reed College in 1914 in Portland in the United States, which also taught Physical Therapy.
  • The outbreak of polio in 1916 where polio patients with residual paralysis began to be treated using passive movements. This eventually led to the development of Manual Muscle Testing for assessing the strength of the muscle and thereby implementing muscle re-education techniques for weaker muscles.
  • The treatment of injured American soldiers during the First World War using Zander’s Machines and Ling’s Swedish Movement.
  • Another outbreak of polio in the 1920s placing further demand on physiotherapists, leading to additional breakthroughs in treatment techniques.
  • The establishment of the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association (APTA) by Mary McMillan in 1921. McMillan eventually becoming known as the ‘Mother of Physical Therapy’.
  • The creation of special physiotherapy clinics during the Second World War to treat injured soldiers who returned home with amputations, burns, cold injuries, wounds, fractures, and nerve and spinal cord injuries.
  • The development of a 7-hour professional competency examination by APTA in 1954 in conjunction with the Professional Examination Service.
  • The transition of treatment outside of a hospital-setting in the late 1950s.
  • The expansion of the profession into the management of orthopeadics and cardiopulmonary disorders from 1967 to 1976.
  • The introduction of devices such as electrical stimulators from the 1980s through advancements in healthcare technology.

Physiotherapy Today (Present Day)

Physiotherapy has rapidly evolved over the last few decades, establishing itself as central to improving a plethora of conditions associated with different systems of the body, including neurological, neuromusculoskeletal, cardiovascular and respiratory.

Taking a whole-person approach to health and wellbeing, including the patient’s general lifestyle, at its core is the patient’s involvement in their own care, through education, awareness, empowerment and participation in their own treatment.

The field continues to rapidly evolve and advance through new technology, further scientific research and a growing diversity of specialisms. As such, make sure to choose a physiotherapy clinic in Sheffield that is wholeheartedly dedicated to being the best in class.

Here at Katie Bell Physiotherapy & Wellness we are constantly taking things to the next level through assembling an expert team of highly qualified physiotherapists. Book your complimentary physiotherapy consultation today.