The History Of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training

Main focus is physical therapy, but also shows when sports start mixing with physical therapy.



Approx. 460 BC

Hippocrates, considered the father of medicine, practiced manual manipulation or massage therapy. The Greeks also practiced hydrotherapy. Greeks were very well recorded does not mean that it was the only society using therapy.
Importance: This is a starting point where humans are shown using some form of physical therapy.

Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics


Per Henrik Ling, “Father of Swedish Gymnastics,” who founded the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics (RCIG) in 1813 for massage, manipulation, and exercise. later known as 'medical gymnastics'. Became very popular, but eventually with help from traditional physician, the treatments used were phased out.
Importance: This is when physical therapy started in 'modern' society.



Physical therapists were given official registration by Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare.
Importance: This validates the profession.

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy


This organization started as Society of Trained Masseuses by 4
British nurses, Lucy Marianne Robinson, Rosalind Paget, Elizabeth Anne Manley and Margaret Dora Palmer. They started this organization to protect the image of their profession. One of the first organization for physiotherapists or physical therapists. Brought back some popularity to a somewhat phased out treatment.

Modern Olympic Games

April 6th, 1896

The first modern olympic games were held in Paris, France. Eventually they did have attendants, now know as athletic trainers, for the athletes the would help with injury prevention and injuries.
Importance: This is when athletic training started.

Polio Epidemic

1910 - 1952

Polio, or poliomyelitis a virus that infects a person's brain and spinal cord causing paralysis. Besides medicine, physical rehabilitation was used as a treatment. The 32nd president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had polio and was in a physical rehabilitation program.

The virus had it's peak around 1940-1950 in the US. Then in 1952 a vaccine was made.
Last known cases in the United States was around 1979.
Importance: A popular and important figure in the US was stricken with an aliment and was using physical therapy as treatment. This was important because the profession was being exposed more.

Early Physical Therapy schools

Approx. 1913 - 1914

University of Otago in New Zealand (1913)
Reed College in Portland, Oregon (1914)
Importance: Some examples for early schools that had formal training for physical therapists

Walter Reed Hospital


In the United States, Physical Therapy began in 1914 at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC. It was one of the most important medical facilities at the time, it graduated the first 'reconstruction aides'. These were nurses with a background in physical education needed to help manage the devastating effects of the First World War.
Importance: This changed the settings of hospitals from illness to illness and rehabilitation.

Mary McMillan, American Physical Therapy Association


Mary McMillan, the first physical therapy aide, established the American Women's Physical Therapeutic Association. The organization's name was changed a year later to American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Due to her significant contribution in the reconstruction aide services, Mary McMillan came to be known as the 'Mother of Physical Therapy'.
Importance: This was one of the first major, still existing, organizations of Physical therapy and was created by a woman.

First published US physical therapy research


First published US physical therapy research was featured in first edition of The PT Review.
Importance: This marks a movement of scientific research and technology to move physical therapy forward.

World War II

1939 - 1945

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.
Importance: Again adding an other setting for physical therapist to work in.



The National Athletic Trainer's Association have their first meeting in Kansas City to discuss the future of their profession.
Importance: The largest and important organization for athletic trainers.

Setting Physical Therapy and Athletic Training apart


the "Journal of Athletic Training" released a study explaining that the early curriculum of athletic training degrees needed to focus on course specific to athletic training but the courses were relatively identical to other health and physical education courses. By the 1970s, the curriculum for athletic trainers began to advance, eliminating the requirement for secondary teaching certification.
Importance: This separated athletic training apart from other health professions.

International Federation of Orthopedic Manipulative Therapy


Doctors began specializing in physical therapy. APTA formed an Orthopedic Section for those specializing in Orthopedics. A new organization called the “International Federation of Orthopedic Manipulative Therapy” popularized manual therapy.
Importance: This separated physical therapists from other medical professions.



Medical science began using computers in the field of physiotherapy. Objects such as electrical stimulators were created which greatly enhanced the treatment.
Importance: Technology advancing to better help patients.

Athletic Training becomes a major


Sayers Miller, the chair of the Professional Education Committee, proposed a major specific option for Athletic Training to be offered by colleges. The next year NATA comes out with guidelines and courses colleges should follow for this major.
Importance: Further separation of athletic training

Sue Falsone

2007 - Present

First female head athletic trainer in major professional sports in 2012. Worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2007.
Importance: A wonderful role model for women and young girls. Females are progressing and there are new areas to conquer in this field.