THE HISTORY OF MASSAGE THERAPY:
There is a plethora of evidence to support that massage therapy has been used as a natural healing method in many ancient civilizations including China, India, Japan, Egypt, Rome, Greece, and Mesopotamia. Some say massage began as a sacred system of natural healing for injuries, pain, stress, and illnesses. Others disagree and believe that massage was not advocated or practiced until modern times.
The earliest written record of massage therapy was found in the Tomb of Akmanthor (also known as “The Tomb of the Physician”) in Saqqara Egypt around 2400 BCE. On the walls of the tomb was a painting depicting two men having kneading done on their feet and hands. Egyptians have been credited for the creation of reflexology based on that same painting.
Sources indicate that touch therapy was included in Ayurveda, the traditional holistic system in India. The first texts with details on Ayurvedic principles and practices were written sometime between 1500 and 500 BCE. Ayurveda took the approach that illnesses occurred when individuals lived out of harmony with their environment. Touch therapy was used within Ayurveda to help create balance. Sanscrit records have also indicated that massage had been practiced in India long before the beginning of recorded history.
China & Japan
Massage is referenced over 30 times in texts found in China sometime between 722-481 BCE described the medical benefits of massage therapy in the time of the Yellow Emperor (2700 BCE). Around the same time those records were found, Bian Que, a Chinese physician, was recorded using massage therapy in medical practice. There was a historical book created involving Chinese medicinal traditions and it was titled “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine.” This book was not published in English until the mid-1900s, but it is now considered one of the basic books taught in acupuncture school, detailing the practices and techniques that are used in current Oriental Medicine and Massage Therapy.
Around the year 1000 B.C.E., Japanese Buddhist monks, who were training in China, were introduced to Tui Na, which is a massage modality in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Upon returning to Japan, the monks added their own modifications to Tui Na, which eventually became its own distinct massage modality, known as Anma. During the 1940’s, Anma, along with massage techniques from other modalities were codified by Tokujiro Namikoshi into what we now know as Shiatsu.
Greece & Rome
Massage entered western civilization around 800 BCE when athletes employed massage to keep their bodies in peak condition. Specific techniques included decreasing the “knots” throughout muscle tissue in the body through therapeutic rubbing. This practice is very similar to modern-day techniques employed by Sports Massage Therapists. Hippocrates is considered to be the founder of modern medicine and his legacy continues to this day; the oath that doctors take at graduation was written by him, which is why it is called the Hippocratic Oath. Hippocrates prescribed friction to treat physical injuries. He wrote, “The physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing.”
A few centuries later Galen, a physician to many emperors, followed Hippocrates’ principles and began using massage therapy to treat different types of physical injuries and help maintain a healthy body.
The 17th through 19th centuries
Massage therapy declined in popularity and practice in the West until approximately 1600 CE. Scientific breakthroughs in medical technology and pharmacology were changing the foundation of modern medicine. Manual methods of healing faded from view. Between 1600 and 1800, numerous physicians and scientists observed and documented the benefits of massage. However, Western techniques made few advances until the 19th century.
In the early 1800s, the Swedish physician Per Henrik Ling developed the Swedish Gymnastic Movement System. This system incorporated massage with medical gymnastics and physiology. Techniques included stroking, pressing and squeezing, and striking to manually treat physical issues.
The 20th century through today
Through the early part of the 20th century, an increasing number of new and rediscovered massage techniques were documented and practiced. In particular, massage was used to treat World War I patients who suffered from nerve injury or shell shock.
However, massage remained out of the mainstream as a form of treatment for many years. It was perceived as a luxury reserved for the wealthy. Furthermore, its reputation endured another unsavory period with the advent of massage parlors where the practice became associated with the sex trade.
In the latter half of the 20th century, rising interest in natural healing methods revitalized massage. More and more states started to regulate the practice, and industry standards in licensing and education emerged. As a result, massage earned a place as a legitimate and respectable form of alternative and complementary medicine and because recognized in society’s wellness boom—the focus on disease prevention through maintaining wellness.
Today’s massage therapists practice a multitude of techniques originating from ancient methods. From those roots, they remain inspired by a goal cultivated centuries ago – to help others heal their physical and emotional well-being and experience a higher quality of life.