Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute
Skip section navigation
Did you know that Sister Kenny was not a nun?
Elizabeth Kenny was born in Australia in 1880. She was trained as an army nurse and treated the sick for 31 years in the bushlands of Australia. She was granted the honorific the title "Sister" — used in British countries for "nurse."
In 1911, when she encountered her first case of polio, Sister Kenny was unaware of conventional polio treatment — immobilizing the affected muscles with splints.
Instead, she used common sense and her understanding of anatomy to treat the symptoms of the disease.
Sister Kenny applied moist hotpacks to help loosen muscles, relieve pain, and enable limbs to be moved, stretched, and strengthened. The theory of her treatment was muscle "re-education" — the retraining of muscles so that they could function again.
In 1940, Sister Kenny traveled to the United States and eventually to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where, in 1942, the Sister Kenny Institute was established.
Sister Kenny's pioneering principles of muscle rehabilitation became the foundation of physical therapy.
Today, Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute is one of the premier rehabilitation centers in the country, known for its progressive and innovative vision.
Polio survivor plays the cards he was dealt: A look back at Sister Kenny's polio treatment
In 1952, at the peak of the polio epidemic, 12-year-old Arvid Schwartz spiked a fever, complained of muscle fatigue and ultimately experienced paralysis. The family doctor urged he immediately go to the Elizabeth Kenny Institute in Minneapolis. "I didn't know when or if I would return," explains the now 69-year-old Schwartz.