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The History of Physical Therapy and Relevance Today!

Sep 30, 2020

Did you know that Physical Therapy is a profession that was actually birthed out of national crisis situations?  In 1917, the US War department’s surgeon general saw the great need for a special group of people who could intervene to help injured soldiers during World War I.  His attention was drawn to England where education was being given to young women in teaching them how to help with the traumatic injuries of war.  The United States sent a young woman, Mary McMillan, to receive this education and to return and begin a program here in the US.  She became the first “physical therapist” in the United States. The early physical therapists were called Reconstruction Aides.  86,000 soldiers were treated from 1918-1920.  Proving that many men could be returned to useful lives avoiding serious disability, the principles of physical therapy became so definitively established that civilian hospitals began to provide a staff of such workers.   The field continued to grow even more after World War II.  The national crisis of the Polio Epidemic also found the US medical system in need of skilled individuals to address the physical needs of children and adults recovering from polio.   Dr. Robert Lovett, an orthopedic surgeon dealing with the aftermath of polio conceptualized the “team approach” to rehabilitation for polio and he united doctors, nurses, physical therapists and brace makers to work together  to help address the polio epidemic.

Today, physical therapy has evolved into a healthcare profession that requires a doctoral level of education and can address individuals with catastrophic injuries and disease as well as musculoskeletal injury, neurological disorders, children with developmental delays and those individuals with chronic pain issues.  Physical Therapists are active in the research arena and continually refine the best of rehabilitation practices for multiple types of patients and settings.  In recent times, however, there seems to have been a shift away from collaborative efforts as our health care system is undergoing much shifting and consolidation and health insurance companies are running the system rather than the healthcare professionals.  Cost should be always be a concern but should never become the driving force of determining what the best care for people truly is. Yet, that is where we all are in healthcare in general.  Due to nature of these economic shifts, there has developed somewhat of a lack of communication/collaboration across multiple medical disciplines.  Physical therapy should be recognized as a potential front runner in helping people deal with injury, pain and other national medical crises.

Our nation currently is facing other medical crisis situations.  COVID 19 is greatly affecting many people and leaving some with long term consequences that are still being fully understood.  Physical Therapists are very active in treating these patients at this time and conducting research on the best clinical practice interventions to help restore those who survive yet are struggling to fully functionally recover their lives back. Rest assured that physical therapists will again be there to return people to the best life they can.   The Opioid crisis has not yet disappeared and physical therapists are actively involved in helping to treat chronic pain before individuals become potentially addicted to opioid medications as well as initiating treatments to try to help people get off of those medications.

In October 2020, we are celebrating National Physical Therapy Month.  It is time to reflect on where it all started and where we still need to go.  If you know of a good physical therapist or have been helped by one, please speak up and tell others of your good experience.  Doctors need to hear how you have been helped.  Others may need a recommendation for a PT.  We are proud of what we do and blessed to get so much satisfaction out of helping others on their life’s journey.  We meet people at their vulnerable sometimes lowest points in their lives. At the core of a physical therapist’s soul is the ability to see not just how things are, but how they can be made better and to infuse hope and skill and motivation to elevate people back to their functional lives.  It really is a great profession.  Optimal Physical Therapy and Sports Performance proudly continues the legacy of restoring movement, function and the joy to living life pain free.  Thank you to all who have trusted us and placed your physical problem into our hands. It is a pleasure and honor to serve you!

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