Physical Therapy Through the Years

Curated by Dr. Marnie Wortman, PT, DPT October is National Physical Therapy Month! To kick things off, we thought it would be fun to take a look at how much physical therapy has changed and progressed over the years. 

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Early 1900’s:

WWI and Polio helped to create the occupation of physical therapy.

Polio brought the need for rehabilitation and muscle retraining, while WWI required the importance of having able-bodied soldiers.

Physical therapy began with physical fitness programs, which increased workforce efficiency and “economic usefulness”, and also provided treatment of children with disabilities.

1917:

US Army established the Division of Special Hospitals and Physical Reconstruction where wounded soldiers were treated.

They developed a 3-month emergency education program, which concentrated in education and exercise.  At completion, you were a “reconstruction aide."

1918:

Thirteen schools had short, intensive, certificate programs in physical therapy, consisting of 6 months of education.

1928:

By this time, what is now known as the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) was formed and developed the minimal standards for the profession. 

Minimum standards included 9 months of education, with the prerequisite being a graduate from a recognized school of physical education or nursing.

1936:

American Medical Association (AMA) accredited physical therapy schools consisting of 12-24 month programs, requiring the prerequisite of 60 college credits or graduating from a 2-year school of nursing or physical education.

1939:

Due to overwhelming need, physical therapists began practicing in a wide variety of settings including outpatient centers, home care, convalescent homes, orthopedic hospitals, schools for children with disabilities and higher education settings.

1950’s:

37 physical therapy programs were offering a PT degree, mostly from colleges and universities vs hospitals.

1960:

Bachelors of Science in Nursing became the educational qualification

1979:

It was decided that a post baccalaureate degree was to be required to enter physical therapy by 1990 (It actually took until 1999!)

Minimum educational requirements at this time included 12 months-4 years of educations after prerequisite course work was completed.

1999:

All PT degrees must be post baccalaureate.

2002:

All programs not post baccalaureate were no longer accredited.

February 2003:

New Jersey became the 36th state to adopt direct access which allows patients to seek treatment from a physical therapist without a prescription or referral from a physician.

July 2014:

Physical therapy established direct access nationwide.

January 2016:

Doctorate of Physical Therapy became required degree for all entry level physical therapy programs.