Our history

We've been a profession for over 110 years

Today physiotherapy is a blend of a range of evidence-based, scientifically rigorous physical therapies that have developed progressively over the last century. Worldwide the war years were trying times, yet it was a coming of age for the profession.

World War I helped highlight the benefits of physiotherapy as a profession. At the beginning of the war, many doctors and members of the general public remained skeptical of the use of massage therapy in treatment. Although the Australasian Massage Association (AMA) helped raise its profile, massage therapy remained an underutilised practice.

Due to the numerous casualties from the war needing ongoing physical rehabilitation, this allowed massage practitioners to demonstrate the effectiveness of their methods. Treatment involved massage, hot air baths and electrotherapy. By the end of the war, treatment saw active therapy replace passive as the main therapeutic tool. By the end of 1918, both the physical therapies and the AMA were more widely known.

Treating the wounded provided practitioners invaluable experience under testing conditions and brought the profession to the notice of the medical profession. It forced many doctors to recognise the benefits of massage, remedial exercise and electrotherapy. It also provided a legacy of patients with chronic conditions ensuring there would be an ongoing need for physical therapists well into the following decades.

The Australian Physiotherapy Association

The late 1930s saw the AMA move to adopt the term ‘physiotherapy’—becoming the Australian Physiotherapy Association. By the time of World War II, standards of physiotherapy had been raised significantly due to the first war and polio epidemics.  

For over 110 years, the APA has been on a journey with physiotherapists to strengthen the profession.

Here are some of our milestones:

2021 – APA reached record breaking 30,000 members

2018 – The APA has over 26 000 members, 800 courses through career pathway framework, 10 international OUs delivering and sharing knowledge with the international community. Over 20 million Australians are reached through consumer marketing campaigns. The APA has a respected and active voice in health policy.

2017 – The APA launches the second iteration of its Reconciliation Action Plan and its first national advertising campaign; Choose Physio

2013-15 – InPractice2025 report released

2012 – The APA launches its first Reconciliation Action Plan

2010 – Children with disabilities gained access to Medicare funded physiotherapy

2006 – 18 physiotherapy entry-level programs in Australian universities

2004 – Physiotherapy funded through Medicare Benefits Schedule

1988 – The APA launches the Physiotherapy Research Foundation

1976 – The APA changes its ethical principles to make Australian physiotherapists the first in the world to be first contact professionals

1972 – Margaret Peel becomes the first physiotherapist to hold the APA presidency, signalling the move to independent practice

1962 – Queen Elizabeth II granted her patronage to the APA

1950 – First degree in physiotherapy offered at University of Queensland

1939 – AMA move to adopt the term 'physiotherapy' becoming the Australian Physiotherapy Association

1918 – WW1 allows massage practitioners to demonstrate their effectiveness and consequently physical therapies and the AMA become widely known

1906 – Australasian Massage Association is formed