History of Massage Therapy

massage therapy


Massage is one of the oldest forms of medicinal treatment for injury and illness. Dating as far back as 5000 years, many ancient healers in Eastern and Western Civilizations found using oils, herbs, and massage advantageous to relieving pain, healing injury, and curing illness.

Findings dated as far back as 2700 BCE shows a Chinese Book titled, “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine” being used to teach forms of alternative medicine such as acupressure and acupuncture. This book is often used in current day education for massage therapy. Doctors in Chinese Medicine, Martial Artists, Taoists, and Buddhists all viewed touch as essential to spiritual training. Massages were commonly offered as a method of relaxation to patients. These professionals believed illnesses and diseases were a result of deficiencies and imbalances in the physiological health of individuals. Through massage, they believe energy flowed more harmoniously, allowing the body to naturally heal.

Around 1000 BCE, Japanese monks visiting China observed the healing in patients which was encouraged by Chinese methods. They took these practices back to Japan, which eventually evolved into Shiatsu Massage Techniques. Pressure points are stimulated throughout the body in efforts to balance the patient’s energy levels. Through Shiatsu treatments, organ functions were regulated and natural resistance to illness was stimulated. Patients exhibited a restored balance of both emotional and physical well-being after these treatments.

Egyptian tomb paintings, dated 2500 BCE, show medical traditions utilizing massage therapy. These paintings depict individuals being kneaded on by other humans. Egyptians have also been credited for reflexology, which is the practice of applying pressure to specific joints or reflex points in hands and feet.

Written passages in India from 1500-500 BCE prove Hindus have been using the power of healing touch in medical practices. Ayruveda, which is a holistic medicinal system was been shown to utilize massage techniques are far back as 3,000 BCE. Ayurveda teaches illness and disease occurs when individuals live out of sync and harmony with their surrounding environment. To treat these conditions, mental and physical balance must be harmonized and restored with the environment. Treatments include restoring the human five senses through herbalism in diets, color therapy, aromatherapy, sound and touch therapy.

As the trend continued, massage techniques continued Westward towards Greece between 800 and 700 BCE. Athletes in Greece utilized massage to keep their muscles in peak condition prior to competing. Physicians contributed combinations of oils and herbs to the massage techniques to treat certain medical conditions. The movement continued to Rome between 200 and 100 BCE. Many Romans were treated by trainers and doctors in public bath houses to full body massages to loosen stiff joints, stimulate circulation, and benefit skin conditions.

The popularity of massage therapy died down until the early 1800’s when Swedish physician Per Henrik Ling began incorporating massage with medical physiology and gymnastics in his treatments.  His method was labeled as the “Swedish Movement System,” eventually evolving into the Swedish massage most commonly known to us today.

Massage therapy started as a sacred system to treat the imbalances of emotional and physical levels in patients. Throughout the years, medical practitioners have returned to massage therapy to promote balance of internal and external healing in their patients. The benefits of pain treatment, circulation improvements, and the healing of injured or sore muscles have all proven massage therapy is remedial and restorative.

The practice of massage has evolved from a practice of healing to one of preventive medicine in the idea of keeping the body balanced. The ideology is tends to be ordered by today’s physicians as well as patients.

Written by: Gunnar Thelander

Gunnar leads Massage Kneads & Wellness as CEO. Gunnar's educational background entails a BS in Exercise & Sports Science from Texas State University, and an MA and Ed.D. from Nova Southeastern University in Organizational Leadership. He has been a teacher and coach for all individuals in living a healthy, balanced lifestyle to maximize your life in every area. He is currently OSHA certified to speak in areas of Health and Safety in the Workplace, Ergonomics, and a trainer in First Aid/CPR.

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