A Brief History of Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy, like the rational approach to medicine, was founded in ancient Greece. Hippocrates, widely regarded as the founding father of Western medicine, practiced massage therapy as a treatment for physical healing and stress relief as early as 460 BC. Other Greek physicians, such as Hector, wrote about a variety of physical therapy techniques that are still in use today, such as hydrotherapy. The Greeks, however, were not the only people practicing physical therapy; ancient writings from Persia, China and Egypt also describe the benefits of exercise, movement and massage for ailments.

For centuries, the field of physical therapy saw relatively little advancement. Change was slow, until the founding of a physical therapy group in England in the late 19th century. A group of nurses started the group to educate others about the practice, its benefits and techniques. In 1914, the practice spread to Washington D.C., where physical therapy techniques were used to help rehabilitate soldiers wounded in the First World War.

Following increased research in the field, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) was formed in 1921. The association’s published medical journals were soon regarded as an ultimate authority on the subject, and interest in the field continued to grow through the United States and world.

An outbreak of polio in the 1920s placed increased demand on physical therapists, which lead to more breakthroughs in treatment techniques. Additional improvements were seen in the following several decades as a result of increased medical and surgical knowledge.

Until the Second World War, most physical therapies were done in hospitals on patients recovering from surgeries, injuries or other conditions. Specialty physical therapy clinics were founded during the war to provide treatment for the thousands of wounded soldiers that needed rehabilitation following hospital stays. This transition to outpatient care represented the growing popularity of physical therapy. In the late 1960s, the practice became widely accepted in the medical field and was included in basic medical coverage through many government programs and insurance policies.

During the next two decades, the profession of physical therapy increasingly diversified. Specializations, such as cardiopulmonary physical therapy, skin therapy, neurological therapy and sports therapy, were recognized by APTA , and the discipline continued to become more widely regarded.

Today, physiotherapy is used to treat a variety of ailments and conditions. Patients may seek treatment for back pain, osteoarthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, bursitis, muscle strains, Guillain-Barre syndrome, balance conditions, asthma, fibromyalgia, wounds, burns, rheumatoid arthritis and a host of other conditions. The goals of physiotherapy depend on the patient’s unique needs, but common desired outcomes include a reduction in pain, increased range of motion, increased endurance and strength, restored independence, a reduction in stress and a greater quality of life for the patient.

Treatment methods also vary per the patient’s needs and goals, but may include electrotherapy, hydrotherapy, massage, passive joint mobilization, exercises, stretches and the application of heat or cold. Physical therapists may also educate patients on how to use and adapt to mobilization devices, such as wheelchairs, crutches or walkers.

Who Is A Good Candidate For Physiotherapy?

Thousands of people have benefited from physiotherapy for various injuries and health problems. A physiotherapist is a skilled professional that can provide treatment to assist with neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiopulmonary and cardiac problems affecting adults, children and the elderly.

As educated and trained health professionals, physiotherapists combine knowledge of how the body moves with specialized clinical skills to evaluate, diagnose, and treat symptoms of injury, illness, or disability. The goal a physiotherapist is to restore, maintain, and maximize patient strength, function, movement, and overall health and well-being.

Physiotherapists can be found working in sports organizations, hospitals, outpatient clinics, sports clubs, and in physiotherapy clinics. They help patients regain their strength, regain their range of movement, and support patients with permanent disabilities to increase function and prevent further injury.

Physiotherapy Treatment

A physiotherapist can be a part of a health care team or work exclusively with a patient. The initial meeting between a patient and physiotherapist will include an assessment of the patient, determining the degree of the patient’s problem or condition, learning about the cause of the patient’s problem, and determining a treatment plan tailored to the patient’s unique needs.

Physiotherapists create personalized therapeutic exercises to restore patient mobility and independence. Physical exercises prescribed are designed build muscle strength and muscle tone. These therapists can employ manipulation techniques such as guided stretching and massage, as well as offer nutritional advice. Manual therapy involves using the hands to mobilize joints and soft tissues. It can be used to improve circulation, help fluid drain from parts of the body, improve movement of different parts of the body, and relieve pain and help relaxation. They also use equipment such as heat packs, ice packs, exercise equipment, ultrasound, and electrotherapy to alleviate pain, reduce swelling, and improve range of movement. Ultrasound involves high-frequency sound waves that can treat deep tissue injuries by stimulating blood circulation and cell activity. It helps to reduce pain and muscle spasm and speed up healing.

A physiotherapist can advise on treatment for symptoms such as paralysis, weakness on one side of the body, and abnormal muscle tone, and can work with a patient to overcome or manage such conditions. They also offer advice on preventative care and body conditioning which are designed to prevent further injuries. Patients with cardiopulmonary problems provide therapeutic treatments to help patients better perform their daily activities with a higher endurance level and less shortness of breath.

The physiotherapy treatment plan implemented is designed to restore movement and reduce pain, as well as and limitations to mobility. They treat the condition and help the client understand its impact on their function so the patient can work to manage their condition independently. Throughout the treatment program, patient progress is evaluated at regular intervals, and the treatment is modified when necessary.

Types of Physiotherapy Treatment

Physiotherapists use a number of treatments based on the patient’s condition and needs. This can include: exercise programs that includes water exercise programs, massage, joint manipulation and mobilization to reduce pain and stiffness, muscle re-education, airway clearance techniques, breathing exercises, assistance with the use of therapeutic aids such as wheelchairs, splints, canes, and crutches. Aquatic therapy improves blood circulation, alleviates pain, and relaxes muscles.

Specialized Physiotherapists

Physiotherapists also work in such specialized areas as: women’s health, pediatrics, geriatrics, and can focus on a specific medical area or multiple areas such as: helping manage physical complications of cancer and its treatment, physical symptoms associated with arthritic condition, sports injuries, stroke rehabilitation, and repetitive strain injuries. Treatment areas can include:  back and neck pain, spinal cord injury, head injuries, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and post-surgical rehabilitation such as hip replacement. Areas where physiotherapy is used also includes cardiorespiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease, pneumonia, cardiac rehabilitation, and Cystic Fibrosis. Looking at all of the ways that physiotherapy can help a patient, it is no surprise that physiotherapy is such a popular and important therapy.