early 15c., phisical, "medicinal" (opposed to surgical), from Medieval Latin physicalis "of nature, natural," from Latin physica "study of nature" (see physic).
The meaning "pertaining to matter, of or pertaining to what is perceived by the senses" is from 1590s; the meaning "having to do with the body, corporeal, pertaining to the material part or structure of an organized being" (as opposed to mental or moral) is attested from 1780. The sense of "characterized by bodily attributes or activities, being or inclined to be bodily aggressive or violent" is attested from 1970. Physical education is recorded by 1838; the abbreviated form phys ed is by 1955. Physical therapy is from 1922. Related: Physically.