Development Of Physical Therapists Over The Years

The evolution of physical therapists from a group of reconstruction aides and technicians to professional practioners playing an important role in the healthcare industry has been phenomenal. The profession today attracts highest number of students as it is a vital provider of rehabilitation services and risk- reduction as well as preventive services.


Over the centuries, various events shaped the field of physical therapy to its present state. The present day techniques used by physical therapists such as exercise, massage, heat and cold treatment, water therapy etc. all have their roots in the Greek culture. During the 1500- 1700 in Europe, exercise was used as means to overcome muscle and bone disorders.

During the polio epidemic in US in1916, there grew an immediate need for muscle testing as well as re- education in order to rehabilitate muscle function. This was the beginning of an emerging field of physical therapy. During the WWI the need to rehabilitate injured soldiers caused further advancement in physical therapy as special training programs were developed. After the war, the significance of physical therapy came to the fore and thus led to the emergence of a fully fledged career in ohysical therapy. Presently, physical therapy has become a branch of medicine and is recognized all over the world.

Changing Roles

As the field evolved further, physical therapists branched into paying various important roles in patient rehabilitation. Varied professional roles are played by physical therapists such as;

  • Patient/ Client Management: A physical therapist provides care to patients who suffer from various physical impairments or activity limitations caused due to musculoskeletal, cardio- pulmonary and neuromuscular disorders. Personalized plans are chalked out by physical therapist for individual patients in order to provide best treatment. Physical therapists work along with other healthcare professionals to address patient needs and provide wholesome care.
  • Prevention and Risk Reduction: Physical therapists also promote health and fitness by providing prevention services. By identifying risks, physical therapists help to avoid occurrence of targeted health condition in susceptible population or individuals. A population which has greater chances of illness, injury or disease, physical therapists can reduce its severity as well as duration by intervention. They also limit the physical disability through proper restoration and rehabilitation.
  • Clinical and Non- Clinical: Apart from the above mentioned roles, Physical therapists play many other important clinical as well as non- clinical roles such as research, consultation, education and administration. For example, physical therapists provide consultative services at public schools, businesses, community colleges etc.

Physical Therapist Employment: Federal Services

Physical therapy is a specialty that has integrated itself into majority of federal programs which are aimed at providing healthcare services to United States veterans, Native Americans, armed services members, individuals affected due to natural disasters and public health threats.

  • Department of Defense: Physical therapists work in active duty, reserve forces and civilian physical therapists. Working in the DoD may require practicing at military treatment facilities at home as well as abroad and treatment facilities at the combat zone. If recruited in the reserve forces or on active duty, apart from healing, they should also posses military skills.
  • US Army and Air force: In order to be recruited in the army, you may pass a civilian examination or the Army-Baylor program. Students under this program are subject to active duty and are also obligated to 54 months for Army whereas 60 months or Air Force students. Air force physical therapists practice orthopedic and sports medicine.
  • US Navy: Physical therapists in the US Navy practice comprehensive orthopedics for serving sailors and marines at Navy clinics and hospitals situated in US, overseas and on aircraft carriers.
  • Department of Veterans Affair: This department is the largest recruiter of physical therapists, there are nearly 1000 physical therapists on board this department. The physical therapists provide care to active duty personnel as well as veterans. They provide primary care, wellness programs, post-trauma rehabilitation and disease prevention.

We can thus see that physical therapy has made huge impact on the lives of people and continues to evolve into a specialized healthcare service.

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