October is National Physical Therapy Month and with that we want to dive into what makes this profession so special and why you should always #ChoosePT first! Read below to learn where the field of PT got its roots and some common FAQs that we get about physical therapy!

History of Physical Therapy

Modern Physical Therapy began to be recognized as a legitimate medical profession in the early 1900s, beginning with the polio outbreak in 1916. “Reconstruction aides” (later to be known as PTs) began to rehabilitate disabled children affected by this epidemic with therapeutic exercises. Following the start of World War II in 1918, reconstruction aides worked to restore function to wounded soldiers at the same time the first PT school was established at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. In 1921, the mother of physical therapy, Mary McMillin established what is now known as the APTA in order to advocate for the field and encourage treatment protocol research. As awareness of PT began to spread, the field grew into what it is today with treatment taking place not only in hospital settings, but outpatient facilities, public schools, skilled nursing facilities, and rehabilitation centers towards the end of the 1950s.

Physical Therapy FAQs

How long do you have to go to school to become a PT?

 In the United States (requirements differ in each country), students are required to obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree (DPT) following a 4-year bachelor degree. The APTA has changed this from the previously required Master of Physical Therapy degree in the past two decades. If you currently hold a Master’s, you may continue to practice, but are encouraged to continue your education to help broaden your knowledge of differential diagnosis, evidence based research, and systems analysis.

What types of patients do physical therapists treat?

When thinking of PT, most people expect post-op care, injured athletes, or the person making you get out of bed in the hospital with the gait-belt. In reality, physical therapists treat an enormous variety of patients! Did you know PTs could treat in all of these areas?

  • Orthopedic
  • Sports
  • Acute Care
  • Neuro Rehab
  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
  • Pediatrics
  • Geriatrics
  • Integumentary and Wound Care
  • Women’s Health
  • Hand Therapy
  • Pelvic Floor
  • Palliative Care
  • Oncology

Do I need a prescription from my MD to get physical therapy?

No! As of 2016, Colorado is a direct access state for physical therapy. This means you may schedule an appointment without needing a referral (unless you have Medicare). At the initial evaluation, your DPT will perform a thorough differential diagnosis and multi-systems analysis and refer you out for further medical testing, consultation, and/or imaging if it is suspected that your symptoms are not amenable to pt services.

What is the difference between physical therapists and chiropractors?

While both practitioners may co-treat the same patient, the focus of that treatment often varies. Chiropractic care often focuses on disorders of the spine and joints and achieving alignment throughout the body to alleviate pain and symptoms. Physical therapists are often thought of as the “movement specialists.” PTs evaluate, diagnose, and treat a wide range of musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiopulmonary, developmental, and integumentary conditions using manual (hands-on) treatment, therapeutic exercises, neuromuscular re-education, and various modalities. Most people don’t expect this, but PTs can perform grade V (high velocity low amplitude) joint manipulations that you would receive at a chiropractor’s office!