The Physical Therapy Profession
Updated: Apr 23
What actually is Physical Therapy (PT)? There have been multiple common
misconceptions of the field. Some people know physical therapists as the person who is trained to help athletes when they’re injured during their sporting activity. Other people know PT’s as the movement experts you see in a stand-alone clinic when you get injured or are recovering from surgery. Although these are true roles of a physical therapist, the PT field has much more to offer.
First, let’s start by getting familiar with physical therapy itself. The dictionary, Miriam
Webster, defines physical therapy as “the preservation, enhancement, or restoration of
movement and physical function impaired or threatened by disease, injury, or disability that
utilizes therapeutic exercise, physical modalities (such as massage and electrotherapy), assistive devices, and patient education and training.” Essentially, physical therapists improve the patient’s quality of life and restoring the function they once thought they had lost forever. As there are many success stories in PT, there are also times that functionality can only be maintained.
Now that we know what physical therapy is, how did it originate? The history of physical
therapy goes back into the 19 th century. In 1813, Per Henrik Ling (the father of Swedish
Gymnastics) founded the Central Institute of Gymnastics that included massage, manipulation, and exercise. Physical therapists started as a professional group and were later known as reconstruction aides. Then the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) was founded in 1921. During the polio epidemic in the early 1900s, young women traveled to treat polio patients who had residual dysfunctionality, using passive movements. It wasn’t until World War I that this practice was known as physical therapy. This was due to injured soldiers needing rehabilitation to ultimately return to combat. Finally, PT gained its independence and recognition in the late 1900s and it wasn’t expected to be what it is today.
So, what is PT today? Today, physical therapists work in a multitude of settings. Some
settings include geriatrics, pediatrics, oncology, orthopedics, neurology, and wound
management. Although these are only professional settings, physical therapists can also be
teachers, business owners, admin in hospitals/nursing homes, researchers, or involved in
technology sales. Recently, PT has taken over the internet on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic! Physical therapists have been testing the waters with blogging, conducting more tele-health sessions, and giving back to their community by providing online resources to Pre-PT students.
Speaking of prospective PT students, what do they have to do to become a physical therapist? As we know, PT has emerged over the past decades and has more recognition today than ever before. In the 2000s, a physical therapist earned their title by getting their bachelor’s degree. Later, a master’s degree in physical therapy was required. Now, a doctoral level degree is required, as well as the national licensure exam, the NPTE. All accredited schools require you to submit an extensive application provided by APTA, the Physical Therapy Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) application. This process is a tedious one that involves letters of recommendations from licensed physical therapists and a certain number of observation hours depending on each schools’ requirements. Sometimes, your application has to include much more, such as 2-5 essays answering the schools specific PT-related or non-related questions. When a candidate is selected, they are expected to go through an interview process depending on the school, and from there the school will choose their best fit candidates. A class is usually anywhere from 45-60 seats per application cycle (once a year). In the next blog posts to come, we will go in depth on the common settings in physical therapy.
The Rise of Physical therapy: A History in Footsteps:
APTA 100 Milestones of Physical Therapy:
Miriam Webster Dictionary: