National Physical Therapy Month: The History of PT

National Physical Therapy Month honors physical therapists, their assistants, and PT students. The American Physical Therapy Association has been around in some form for more than 100 years. It encourages people to learn the history of physical therapy services and what advancements have changed this critical therapy practice.

Meet Mary McMillan, the First PT in the U.S.

Physical Therapy Farmington MI - National Physical Therapy Month: The History of PT

Physical Therapy Farmington MI – National Physical Therapy Month: The History of PT

After WWI ended, wounded soldiers needed help getting back to their lives after amputations and severe injuries impacted their mobility. Reconstruction aides were the women tasked with helping them get back on their feet or mobile again with the help of mobility aids.

This led to the creation of the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association, formed in NYC in 1921. Mary McMillan was named the first president of the organization.

Mary learned therapy and massage techniques in Europe and brought them back to the U.S. to help children with polio. Still, her skills proved helpful to the U.S. Army Medical Corps, leading to the use of therapy for soldiers.

The Name Changed to Invite Men to Join

After the year ended, the AWPTA had proven successful and planned the organization’s first annual convention, but they also wanted to be officially recognized by the American Medical Association. As membership started declining, it was determined that the organization should drop “women” from the name to make it inviting to men, too. Votes came in and The American Physiotherapy Association became the new name in 1922.

NYU Adds a Physical Therapy Degree

Fast forward a few years to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s experience with polio. He met with Alice Lou Plastridge, a physical therapist specializing in polio, and he formed the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation as a means to help others experience the benefit of thermal waters for easing pain and helping loosen tight muscles and stiff joints.

With more focus on this therapy, in 1927 New York University established the nation’s first four-year bachelor of science for physical therapy. As the field grew, the first code of ethics for this profession was established in 1935.

The Name Changed Again and President Lyndon Johnson Approves Medicare Coverage

The House of Delegates voted to change the organization’s name once more, moving from the American Physiotherapy Association for the first time since 1922. In 1947, it became the American Physical Therapy Association, its current name.

To this point, this therapy was not covered by government benefits. President Lyndon Johnson changed that in 1965. He made it possible to get Medicare coverage for these therapy treatments for certain conditions.

Another change came in 1972 when President Richard Nixon signed the Social Security Amendments of 1972, providing independent billing for physical therapists to Medicare Part B. A year later, NYU would add a PhD in physical therapy.

Specialties Were Added

Until 1985, physical therapy was a generalized practice, but that changed in 1985 when specialties were added. Physical therapists could now train and become certified in geriatric, women’s health, neurologic, orthopedic, oncologic physical therapy, and many others.

1992 Brought About the Nation’s First National Physical Therapy Month

Almost a century after the first physical therapists helped soldiers, the first National Physical Therapy Month took place. It was themed “Back in Action.”

Physical therapy helps with many chronic conditions and diseases that make it hard to maintain balance and mobility. It’s helpful after a stroke, hip replacement, or heart attack. It’s also beneficial for someone experiencing severe arthritis. Talk to your dad’s doctor about the benefits of physical therapy and what he needs to get started.


If you or an aging loved one is considering Physical Therapy Services in Farmington MI, please contact the caring staff at No Place Like Home Health, LLC today. 734-259-4200

Connecting Families with Compassionate & Quality Home Health Care In Wayne, Oakland, Livingston & Washtenaw

Kevin Sharples, Owner