Massage Therapy: A History

For those who didn’t know it, the history of massage therapy is actually a long one.

Although one might think that it’s a modern trend given its recent popularity, the truth of the matter is that massage therapy has been helping individuals around the globe with pain relief and rejuvenation.

Here’s a brief timeline of history on how therapeutic massage has evolved since its early days.

An overview of the history and origins of massage

Massage therapy in ancient India

Massage has been part of a traditional holistic system of healing that dates back to about 3000 BCE history in India.

Back then, the ancient civilization of India considered massage therapy to be a sacred system of natural recovery, with Hindus using it in their Ayurvedic medicine.

It was a practice that they passed down from generation to generation to help them restore the body’s physical and natural balance, relieve pain, prevent and cure illness, and heal injuries.

Massage therapy travelled to ancient China

As history and culture evolved, the holistic techniques of massage reached the ancient civilizations in China and Southeast Asia in 2700 BCE.

During this time, Chinese massage methods developed to become a combination of practices and skills in traditional Chinese medicine, martial arts, and spiritual training.

These methods, which were very similar to the Indian version, were established on the belief that the body becomes ill as a result of an energy imbalance or energy deficiency in the body’s various pathways.

The ancient Chinese also created a text entitled The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine, which would become the earliest known written records of massage therapy history.

Today, this text is widely regarded as a staple in wellness massage therapy training, as well as in other forms of alternative medicine, including acupressure, herbology, and acupuncture.

Massage therapy reached ancient Egypt

In 2500 BCE, massage had already become part of the Egyptian medical tradition, as illustrated in various Egyptian tomb paintings.

The Egyptians even added their own set of bodywork techniques, which greatly influenced some of the largest ancient cultures, including the Romans and Greeks.

The ancient Egyptians are also recognized for pioneering reflexology, a massage technique that consists of the application of pressure to specific points on the hands and feet in order to effect healing.

Massage therapy arrived in ancient Japan

Years later, around 1000 BCE, massage made its way to Japan by way of Japanese Buddhist monks who were training in China.

Upon returning to Japan, the monks introduced the technique to their countrymen and added their own modifications, calling it anma.

However, it was only in the 1940s when anma would be codified along with other techniques by Tokujiro Namikoshi. This combination of techniques is now known as shiatsu.

Massage therapy set foot in ancient Greece

On the other hand, after having been influenced by the Egyptians, ancient Greeks and Romans used wellness massage in many ways.

The physical culture of Greece, for instance, had Greek athletes using massage to condition their body pre-competitions. In fact, Hippocrates, known today as the father of modern medicine, made use of friction, a massage technique, to treat physical injuries.

He was also the first one to promote overall wellness by encouraging proper diet, ample sleep, regular exercise, massage, and music.

Massage therapy influenced ancient Rome

For the Romans’ part, the physician Galen echoed the idea of curing illnesses by using massage therapy on emperors.

This resulted in the wealthy Romans receiving massage therapy in their homes while the general public flocked to Roman baths for a full-body massage.

Massage therapy in the 19th century

Unfortunately, the popularity of massage treatments declined in the West when revolutionary discoveries in medical technology and pharmacology changed the course of modern medicine, and manual healing methods were slowly disregarded.

However, in the early 1800s, massage therapy was briefly revived by the Swedish physician, gymnast, and teacher, Per Henrik Ling, when he developed what is referred to as the Swedish Gymnastic Movement System.

It was a movement system that was not only scientific but also holistic.

It incorporated massage with physiology and medical gymnastics as Ling believed in the unity of a person’s mind, body, and spirit, and that movement has a profound impact on one’s overall health.

The Swedish Movement would become the precursor to what is now known as the Swedish massage, which comprises of a group of techniques that are still being used today and that have been incorporated by the 19th century Dutchman Johan Georg Mezger.

Massage therapy in the 20th century up to the present

The early part of the 20th century saw the documentation and practice of new and rediscovered massage techniques.

For instance, patients who suffered from shell shock or nerve injury during the first World War were treated using massage therapy.

In spite of this, many perceived massage as a luxury that was reserved only for the wealthy.

Moreover, its reputation took a blow when a number of massage parlors offered services that were of a sexual nature.

This led to the massage practice becoming associated with the sex trade.

All hope was not lost, however. The latter half of the 20th century saw people taking an increasing interest in natural healing methods.

The public’s rising interest resulted in states regulating the holistic massage practice, and industry standards in education and licensing emerged.

Consequently, massage became known as a respectable and legislative form of complementary and alternative medicine.

Today, massage continues to help patients recover from their injuries and experience high-quality living.