It’s Not A Miracle, It’s Medical
Historians credit Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galenus, as the first to use massage — and what we now call physical therapy — to treat patients suffering from chronic pain or lack of mobility. They even experimented with hydrotherapy techniques as early as 400-500 BCE.
Leaping forward in time, Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare officially registered the first physical therapists in 1887, with Great Britain, New Zealand and the United States quickly following. However, physical therapy truly took global strides during World War I, as the world experienced the painful casualties of war.
In the early 1900s, individuals with disabilities were expected to live their whole lives as invalids, frequently confined to permanent institutions. Physical therapists thought radically by challenging these assumptions, expecting people to strive to overcome their limitations. Unfortunately, their services were regularly only available to the wealthy.
Americans witness the beginnings of physical rehabilitation history through the challenging lives of famous figures, spurring on the profession. The stories of Helen Keller and Franklin D. Roosevelt show these pioneers in action.
Many historians recognize Anne Sullivan as Helen Keller’s miracle worker. During Keller’s time, her community viewed Sullivan as merely a teacher, instructor or lifelong companion — but never as an occupational or speech therapist. Sullivan graduated from Perkins School for the Blind in 1886, a time void of any mention of speech, occupational or physical therapy. Helen’s family viewed Sullivan as irrational and radical, and remained openly against helping her discipline Helen Keller in any way. Sullivan’s skilled use of drug-free and non-surgical physical therapy techniques prove the outcomes she produced were miraculous.
Years later, Franklin D. Roosevelt faced similar problems. Diagnosed with infantile paralysis — commonly known as polio — in 1921, Roosevelt felt devastated. No one knew of a cure for polio. Those living with polio endured complete or partial paralysis, struggling with the simplest of tasks. Roosevelt yearned to convince himself and others of the value of the once-outlandish idea we now call physical therapy.
Physical therapy, once viewed as a miracle, now stands as a universally-accepted and trusted way of treating numerous physiological impairments through medical treatment.