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The History of Physical Therapy and Why Pediatric PT is so Important 

People point to different points in history as the start of physical therapy. In many ways, it’s because physical therapy was not always a ‘profession’ per se. Yet, ideas of physical therapy have originated as early as 1813. People early on begin to see that physical rehabilitation was a big part of a lot of people’s health recovery. Pehr Henrik Ling, also known as the “Father of Swedish gymnastics” founded the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics that year and explored things like massage, manipulation, and exercise. The term physiotherapy appeared in the mid-1800s from a military physician. The term eventually evolved to physical therapy. In Sweden, PTs were called “sjukgymnast.” This translates roughly to “someone involved in gymnastics for those who are ill.”

Physical therapists were once known as reconstruction aides and eventually, they became an important part of the health field. According to Archives of Medicine, physical therapy had humble beginnings in the world of polio and war.  Physical therapists play a big role in rehabilitation services as well as prevention and risk reduction training. 

How Polio Changed PT

In 1916,  the world would become closely familiar with the devastating effects of poliomyelitis, or simply known as polio. People began treating patients that had developed some paralysis with passive movement and massage. Muscle testing was developed in order to assess the strength of the muscle and to work on muscle retraining. Passive range of motion (PROM) and splinting of joints were treatments used, as well as hydrotherapy. 

How the War to End All Wars Kickstarted Physical Therapy 

Around the same time that the polio epidemic ravaged the country, the first World War was well underway in Europe. Once the United States entered the war, the profession of physical therapy would find its special place in the world. The need to rehabilitate injured soldiers who would return from the battlefield with deep physical and psychological scars was quickly recognized by the Army. Many of these soldiers would return with amputated limbs, badly damaged limbs, back problems, and other deep injuries to their muscles, joints, and more. This kickstarted the profession and led physical therapists to contribute to the slow rehabilitation of some of our nation’s veterans. This first led to a special unit in the army medical department and gave way to the profession of physical therapy. 

A few years later, the surgical community began growing a partnership with the PTs and this led to some recognition and legitimization of the profession as well. In 1937, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was established to help kids with early diagnosis of polio—which was still raging in the population. Then again, war took hold of the world and once again many soldiers would be returning with all kinds of injuries including amputations, burns, cold injuries, fractures, and nerve and spinal cord injuries. 

Electrical Stimulation is Introduced

Once electrical stimulation was introduced to physical therapy, it changed the direction of the profession and began to add a lot more layers and nuance. Practicing PTs realized that it helped not only in preventing atrophy but in restoring muscle mass and strength.  By the end of the 1940s, working PTs were increased and military PTs began getting rankings in the U.S Army. Towards the 1950s, PTs progressed from technicians to professional practitioners. When in the mid-50s war struck again, the returning injured soldiers were once again a reality that the Army had to deal with. In Vietnam, PTs were once again indispensable to the recovery of many soldiers that would suffer life-altering injuries and minor injuries on the battlefield.  

During times of peace, there was still the need for PTs and APTA recognized the need to train more qualified people in the profession. The expansion of physical therapy happened in the late sixties and seventies as it was frequently used in an addendum to orthopedics and cardiopulmonary disorders. As reconstructive surgeries began to become more frequent, physical therapy was a way to rehabilitate patients that had had serious corrective injuries of the joints like knees, shoulders, and back surgeries. 

Now in the 21st century, the profession has seen a fair bit of expansion but also a change in tone. Today many people will visit a PT on their own, without being referred to by a physician. This is because of the growing awareness of movement and exercise as a fundamental aspect of complete health. So PTs everywhere work to get coordination and comprehensive function of the whole body. 

The Importance of Pediatric Physical Therapy

Along with the PT profession, the specialization of PT for pediatrics also became important. These professionals work to improve the lives of children as they struggle with movement deficiencies and limitations caused by abnormalities, accidents, growth deficiencies, or other conditions like Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Down Syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy and more. 

Physical Therapists You Can Trust

Here at Pasitos Clinic, we offer pediatric physical therapy for children that might need some guided care in improving their body function, movement, and neural connections. We want all children to reach their maximum potential of movement. Call us today and set up an appointment for your child.


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