History of Massage Therapy & How It Evolved

The Origins of Massage Therapy

Massage therapy history dates back thousands of years to ancient cultures that believed in it’s medical benefits. The first written records of massage therapy are found in China and Egypt.

2700 BCE: The first known Chinese text is called “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine.” This book was first published in English in 1949, but has become a staple in massage therapy training and is also often used as a textbook for teaching many other forms of alternative medicine such as acupuncture, acupressure and herbology.

2500 BCE: Egyptian tomb paintings show that massage therapy was also a part of their medical tradition. Egyptians get the credit for pioneering reflexology. Their studies and traditions greatly influenced other cultures such as the Greeks and Romans.

1500 and 500 BCE: The first known written massage therapy traditions come from India, but practice may have actually originated around 3000 BCE or earlier. Hindus used the art of healing touch in the practice of Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda, a Sanskrit word, translates to “life health” or “life science.” It is regarded as the basis of holistic medicine, combining meditation, relaxation and aromatherapy.

Into the West

Early 1800s: It was from this early massage therapy history that the Swedish doctor, gymnast and educator Per Henril Ling developed a method of movement known as the “Swedish Movement System.” This is regarded as the foundation for Swedish massage most commonly used in the West today.

Although the “Swedish Movement System” was developed by Ling, it was Dutchman Johan Georg Mezger who defined the basic hand strokes of Swedish massage.

Today the most common types of massage practiced in the western hemisphere are Swedish massage and the Japanese massage practice of Shiatsu.

Where the Industry Is Going

Considering the long history of massage, its incorporation into Western medicine is only in its infancy. The potential for growth and research of the healing properties of therapeutic massage and body work has gained great momentum over the last fifty years, and the public demand for massage therapy is at an all-time high.

As a preventative practice, therapeutic massage is used in spas, gyms and work places all over the country. Using massage therapy to promote balance and maintain internal and external health is something that is now a standard part of the North American lifestyle.

In the health care industry, massage is commonly used in hospitals, nursing homes and birthing centers. It is also used in physical Therapy and in chiropractic clinics to treat pain, increase circulation and expedite the healing of injured muscles.

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Massage therapy is a simple and effective way to improve physical and mental health. Sessions typically last from 15 to 90 minutes. There are many different types of therapeutic massage, some of which include:

  • Swedish massage – a classic form of massage that relaxes tense muscles and improves blood circulation. The skin and muscles in affected areas are gently stroked, kneaded, rubbed, tapped, and vibrated.
  • Manipulation – ligaments, tendons, and muscles are massaged, stretched, and moved to improve mobility and to relieve pain. It is often done in combination with physical therapy techniques.
  • Mobilization – focuses on moving the spine, joints, and muscles in the body to improve mobility, relax muscles, and improve posture. Like manipulation, it is done with physical therapy techniques.
  • Connective tissue massage – treats illnesses by relieving tension in connective tissue, which connects organs, muscles, and nerves together.
  • Deep tissue massage – treats the deeper layers of muscle by applying strong pressure to muscles and tendons.
  • Myofascial (trigger point) massage – pressure is specifically applied to pain-triggering points that are oversensitive, tense muscle tissue and adhesions of connective tissue. The idea of trigger points is controversial and myofascial massage may not be consistently effective .
  • Chinese traditional massage – moderate pressure is applied to certain acupoints of the body using rotating movements with fingertips; often done in combination with acupuncture
  • Shiatsu massage – a Japanese form of trigger point massage therapy that uses thumbs to massage acupuncture points.
  • Manual lymphatic drainage – encourages natural drainage of waste products from the lymph nodes.
  • Thai massage – involves stretching and pulling the limbs and applying strong, rhythmical pressure to the body with hands, elbows, knees, or feet. Focuses on manipulating “energy lines” (similar to acupuncture meridians) that run throughout the body to treat illnesses.
  • Ayurvedic massage – a traditional form of Indian medicine that involves gently massaging the body using rhythmical stroking movements and herbal oils.

8 Surprising Benefits Of Getting a Massage

If your neck’s all knotted up, it’s no surprise that a massage can make you feel a whole lot better.

But the benefits of a good rubdown may run a little deeper than you may think. Here, 8 surprising ways getting a massage is doing your body good.

Massage Benefit: Fight Off Sickness

The feel-good effects of a massage may extend deep into your body. People who received Swedish massage showed change in their immune system response after the sessions, according to a study out of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

In particular, they experienced a boost in the number of circulating lymphocytes, white blood cells that help fight infection.

Massage Benefit: Ease Back Pain

Chronic low back pain is notoriously hard to treat—and according to new guidelines, you shouldn’t reach for the pills for relief, either, as we reported.

But massage may be a drug-free way to feel better fast. About 50 percent people with chronic low back pain who were given 10 sessions of massage therapy experienced clinically significant improvements in their pain, a study in Pain Medicine found. And the effects were sustained—75 percent who experienced improvements after 12 weeks still showed the benefits at the 24-week mark.

Massage Benefit: Sleep Soundly

People who suffer from back pain tend to have problems sleeping. But massage therapy might help fix that, too.

In University of Miami School of Medicine study of 30 adults with chronic low back pain, those who started 30-minute long massage sessions twice a week for five weeks noted a significant reduction in sleep disturbances, meaning less awakening during the night or trouble falling asleep. Since the massage also reduced the pain, it’s possible that less aches means higher-quality shuteye, the researchers believe.

Massage Benefit: End Exercise Soreness

If a tough workout has you limping, the answer might be on the massage table: People with trap soreness after a hard workout experienced a reduction in soreness intensity after a 10 minutes massage of the affected muscle, according to a studyMassage Benefit: End Exercise Soreness

If a tough workout has you limping, the answer might be on the massage table: People with trap soreness after a hard workout experienced a reduction in soreness intensity after a 10-minute massage of the affected muscle.

Can’t fit in the masseuse after your gym session? Another solution may be just to keep moving: Those who performed “active rest”—in this case, 10 minutes of shoulder shrugs—experienced a similar reduction in soreness.

Can’t fit in the masseuse after your gym session? Another solution may be just to keep moving: Those who performed “active rest”—in this case, 10 minutes of shoulder shrugs—experienced a similar reduction in soreness.

Massage Benefit: Boost Your Mood

It’s not just your imagination—you really do feel better after a massage. And those benefits might extend to people who suffer from depression, too.

After analyzing 17 studies, researchers from Taiwan concluded that massage therapy sessions significantly reduced their depressive symptoms Still, more controlled studies are needed to nail down which massage therapy protocols are most effective, the researchers say.

Massage Benefit: Ease Anxiety

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) May benefit from a massage, too, a new study from Emory University discovered.

After six weeks of Swedish massage therapy, patients with GAD experienced a significant reductions in scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, which measures feelings of worries, tension, fears, insomnia, dry mouth, and restlessness.