National Physiotherapy Month

Canadian Physiotherapy Month – The History of Physiotherapy

In honour of Canadian Physiotherapy Month, we would like to share with you the long history of physiotherapy in Canada, and throughout the world.

The true origins of physiotherapy are thought to have come from as far back as 460BC with physicians like Hippocrates in Greece. They began using massage, manual therapy, and hydrotherapy to treat patients. It slowly grew in popularity as each new physician discovered the benefits, but it wasn’t until over two thousand years later that it began to truly develop.

In the eighteenth century, the practice of orthopedics began to develop. With the new found understanding of the musculoskeletal structure came the need for better ways to treat patients. Machines and contraptions were created to exercise the joints and treat certain conditions. This paved the way for early physiotherapy.

The earliest documented form of physiotherapy was actually in Sweden. A man named Per Henrick Ling founded the Royal Central Institute for Gymnastics (RCIG) in 1813 for massage, manipulation, and exercise. In 1887 they were formally recognized and given official registration in Sweden. From there, it grew. In 1894, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy began in Great Britain, 1913 saw the opening of the School of Physiotherapy in New Zealand, and by 1914 physiotherapy was being taught at Reed College in Portland Oregon.

Canadian physiotherapy got its roots from a small group of British nurse-masseuses who teamed up with the Swedish Gymnasts (not to be confused with the sport) to form a society seeking professional recognition from the government. The medical profession, seeing the benefits of physiotherapy, agreed to sponsor and supervise the budding profession.

During World War I and II, physiotherapy began to grow and develop further as women were recruited to assist injured soldiers in their recovery. This led to the profession being officially recognized. In 1920, the Canadian Physiotherapy Association was founded. By the 1960’s, the high demand for trained physiotherapists led to the creation of nine new University programs in Canada and in 1964 the Ontario Physiotherapy Association was founded.

In the 1980’s they struggled to become independent of the medical professionals who were tasked to supervise them. Finally, on December 31, 1993, Physiotherapy was recognized by the provincial government as a self-governing health care profession. It is regulated by the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario.

So there it is. Almost 2500 years after its conception, there are over 20,000 registered physiotherapists in Canada alone, at least 7000 of which are in Ontario alone. Pretty impressive, right?



Ontario Physiotherapy Association -

Canadian Physiotherapy Association –

US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health –

Wikipedia –