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The History of Physical Therapy

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The History of Physical Therapy

It may be hard to imagine a time without modern day methods we all know and love, but it can be refreshing to look back at the early days of healthcare and see how far we’ve come.


Originating from a professional group dated back to Per Henrik Ling, who is well known as the “father of Swedish gymnastics,” physical therapy began as massage, manipulation and exercise. These tactics were used to aid gymnasts in the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics in 1813. By 1851, the term physiotherapy was coined, in both the German and the English versions. Overtime, the word evolved from its respective languages to physical therapy.


In the early 20th Century, approaches in physical therapy were used to evaluate muscle function in patients suffering from polio in the United States. Polio, or poliomyelitis, also known as infantile paralysis, is an acute viral infection that attacks the nervous system. The paralysis commonly associated with polio is in the muscles, more than one limb, throat or chest. Luckily this paralysis only affects fewer than 1 percent of those inflicted with the disease.


Physical therapists developed programs to strengthen muscles when possible and helped polio patients learn how to use their remaining musculature to accomplish functional mobility activities. Around the same time, physical therapists in the United States were trained to work with soldiers returning from WWI.These therapists, known then as reconstruction aides specialized in early rehabilitation of wounded soldiers: those with amputated limbs, head injuries, and spinal cord injuries.


By the 1920’s a partnership between physical therapists, the medical and surgical community had blossomed, boosting public recognition and validation of the profession.


In the 21st century, Physical Therapy has continued its significant growth and patients are able to refer themselves without the explicit referral from a health professional.


Campbell County Health provides the most comprehensive physical therapy and occupational rehabilitation care in the Northeast Wyoming region. Therapists and patients form a partnership and set goals together, working to help the patient function at their highest level, whether at home or work.

To learn more about our services and just how far physical therapy has come, visit our website at:


For more on the history of physical therapy, check out The Rise of Physical Therapy: A History in Footsteps from the Archives of Medicine & Health Sciences Journal.



Physical therapy | Britannica. (2019). In Encyclopædia Britannica.

Shaik, A., & Shemjaz, A. (2014). The Rise of Physical Therapy: A History in Footsteps. Archives of Medicine and Health Sciences, 2(2), 257.

  • Category: Rehabilitation Services