The Joint Ventures' Blog

History of Physical Therapy

Monday, October 06, 2014

Physicians like Hippocrates and later Galenus are believed to have been the first practitioners of physical therapy, advocating massage, manual therapy techniques and hydrotherapy to treat people in 460 B.C. After the development of orthopedics in the eighteenth century, machines like the Gymnasticon were developed to treat gout and similar diseases by systematic exercise of the joints, similar to later developments in physical therapy.

The earliest documented origins of actual physical therapy as a professional group date back to Per Henrik Ling, “Father of Swedish Gymnastics,” who founded the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics (RCIG) in 1813 for massage, manipulation, and exercise. The Swedish word for physical therapist is “sjukgymnast” = “sick-gymnast.” In 1887, PTs were given official registration by Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare. Other countries soon followed. In 1894 four nurses in Great Britain formed the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

Modern physical therapy was established towards the end of the 19th century. When the polio epidemic became widespread in the United States in 1916, the need for muscle testing and muscle re-education to restore function grew dramatically. During World War I in 1917, women were recruited to rehabilitate injured soldiers and the field of physical therapy was institutionalized.

In 1918 the term “Reconstruction Aide” was used to refer to individuals practicing physical therapy. The first school of physical therapy was established at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington D.C. following the outbreak of World War I. Research was the catalyst for the physical therapy movement. The first physical therapy research was published in the United States in March 1921 in “The PT Review.” In the same year the physical therapists formed the first professional association called the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association. This gave birth by late 1940s to what is known today as the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association), and currently represents approximately 76,000 members throughout the United States.  


The 1950s decade was a critical time for the profession in terms of gaining independence, autonomy, and professionalism. The first national examination took place in 1954. The efforts to gain state licensure undoubtedly influenced the addition of outpatient physical therapy in the Medicare program in 1967 and 1968, as the majority of states had licensure laws by this time. Specialization for physical therapy in the U.S. occurred in 1974, with the Orthopaedic Section of the APTA being formed.

In the 21st century, the profession has continued to grow substantially, by further developing the scientific basis for its services, and it consistently ranks as one of the nation’s most desirable careers. 

Joint Ventures Physical Therapy and Fitness now has over 25 physical therapists in seven locations. Seven of our therapists are also Orthopedic Certified specialists (OCS)

If you have any questions about the history of Physical Therapy or any other physical therapy related question, please feel free to stop by our Kendall Square loacation or email me at


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