Physiotherapy: a historical analysis of the transformation from an occupation to a profession in Brazil

Braz J Phys Ther. 2015 Jul-Aug;19(4):286-93. doi: 10.1590/bjpt-rbf.2014.0103.


ABSTRACTBackground:Analyzing the historical and social path of an occupation using the sociology of professions and the perspective of scientific knowledge promotes an understanding of the origin of physical therapy in Brazil and of discussions of the profession in its contemporary context.

Objective: The aim of this paper was to discuss the professionalization process of physical therapy in São Paulo. The authors tried to analyze bath therapy, massage therapy, and physical therapy as occupations involving distinct expertise and as part of the group of occupations that evolved into the profession of physiotherapy in the first half of the twentieth century.

Method: The analysis undertaken was a qualitative study based on an analysis of historical documents. Eighty-six professional records from the Service of Inspection of Professional Practice in the state of São Paulo and healthcare legislation from the 1930s and 1940s were analyzed.

Results: The distinction between physical therapy practitioner and profession of physiotherapy can be seen by examining registration requirements for rank-and-file nurses with expertise in interactions; this distinction suggests the emergence of specialized expertise that was clearly a part of neither medicine nor nursing and contributed to expertise in physical therapy since the 1950s.

Conclusion: The regulation of physiotherapy practices, the recognition of expertise, the accreditation of practical nurses by the State, and the institutionalization of a course for physical therapy practitioners in 1951 are key elements of the professionalization process for the physical therapy profession in Brazil.

MeSH terms

  • Brazil
  • Humans
  • Occupations / standards*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Professional Practice / trends