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A History of Physical Therapy in the U.S.

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The Physical Therapy profession has been evolving and changing in America since “Reconstruction Aides” were tasked with helping wounded soldiers in the World War I. Since Physical Therapy in America was born as the result of war, it is not surprising that the first PT school was started at Walter Reed Army Hospital right after World War I began.

The field evolved from treating injured veterans. and by the 1920’s, was being utilized as a treatment for individuals suffering from Polio. In the 1940’s, Physical Therapy practice began to advance from instructing in exercises, massage, and traction to include joint mobilizations of the spine and extremities. By the 1950’s, Physical Therapists began moving out of the hospital setting and into outpatient clinics, schools, skilled nursing facilities, colleges/universities, and rehabilitation centers.

As the Physical Therapy profession grew and expanded, the need for specialization became evident. In 1974, the Orthopedic section of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) was created. The APTA now has 7 other specialized sections: Sports, Pediatrics, Geriatrics, Neurology, Women’s Health, and Clinical Electrophysiology.

What level of education do Physical Therapists Have?

As the PT profession continues to expand and become more specialized, the educational requirements for entry level Physical Therapists increases. In the 1970’s, a four year Bachelor's’ degree was the requirement to become a Physical Therapist. By the 1980’s, the standards were raised to a Master's Degree. In the 2000’s, the standards were increased yet again to a Doctorate degree. Currently, every Physical Therapist who graduates must complete a DPT program (Doctor of Physical Therapy). With these advances in the standards of education, Physical Therapists continue to expand their role. Patients can be seen directly by a Physical Therapist in all 50 States without a referral or Script from a Physician. In New Jersey, a patient can be seen for 30 days before being seen by another healthcare provider. In the Military, Physical Therapists order X-rays and MRI’s. The field is continuing to grow, evolve, and specialize while maintaining its roots and holistic origin.

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"The team at 3DPT is made up of dedicated and caring Physical Therapists whose expertise and hands-on approach are what I seek for my patients. It is their fundamental philosophy that has made my professional experiences with them nothing short of exemplary."

     -      Dr. Kathryn Gollotto, DO - Orthopedic Reconstruction Specialists