The History of Massage Therapy

Massage therapists have enjoyed successful careers throughout human history; but it was not until modern times that comprehensive training programs in the field existed. With professional training, massage therapists can help clients work towards healthier, more relaxed bodies that are spiritually, emotionally, and physically balanced. Massage therapy certification is provided by reputable schools across the U.S.; classes cover new and old massage techniques.

Schools teach massage techniques from around the world. Swedish massage is the most popular, but classes in acupressure, chair massage, and deep tissue massage also instruct students in techniques for helping to heal the body and correct chronic conditions and injuries.

How did ancient massage therapy develop into modern techniques?

1500-3000 BCE

The Chinese produced some of the earliest texts used to treat illness with massage. Doctors combined their knowledge of medicine with methods of martial arts to produce techniques that coincided with the spiritual nature of Buddhism and Taoism. On the other side of the world, tomb paintings revealed that the ancient Egyptians had been practicing massage therapy as well. Reflexology was developed by the Egyptians around 2500 BCE. They believed that the human body reacts to applied pressure in certain places, such as in the feet, ears, and hands.

In India, massage techniques called Ayurveda were passed down through family lines and were not written into texts until 1500 BCE. Principles of Ayurveda teach that when a person is in harmony with natural surroundings, nature will begin to heal his or her body. Ayurveda takes into consideration each of the five senses to achieve this balance through methods of aromatherapy and massage.

500CE-1500 BCE

Japanese monks experienced Chinese practices of massage while learning about Buddhism during visits to China in 1000 BCE. Japanese would later transform what they learned into shiatsu. By stimulating the energy in the body, shiatsu strengthens the organs and helps them to be more resistant to illness. Shiatsu would become quite popular in the 20th century when Tokujiro Namikoshi coined the phrase and began a school to teach methods of shiatsu.

Around 800 BCE, the Greeks begin their own practices of massage, mainly focusing on its benefits for their athletes. They used massage to condition the body to prepare for the intense physical strain of Greek athletic competition. The Greeks also used massage to prepare for sleep and be met in their dreams by the gods they worshiped. Hippocrates, the ‘father of modern medicine,’ was the first physician to suggest that external factors affected the body and caused illness.

Galen, a physician who was born in Greece when it was a part of the Roman Empire, treated wounds gladiators acquired during their games. Afterward, he spent the rest of his life attending to the Imperial Court using methods of massage therapy in conjunction with the treatments he had learned by treating the gladiators. Many of the less wealthy people did not have the special attention of Galen, but could receive some of the healing effects of of massage in the public baths. The Roman citizens would bathe and receive a full body massage with aromatherapy oils.

1600-1900 CE

Massage therapy was largely unpracticed as more advanced medical pharmaceuticals and technologies were developed. It wasn’t until Pehr Henrik Ling developed the techniques to treat himself for rheumatism that Swedish massage was developed — which was known then as Swedish medical gymnastics. In 1813, he and a co-worker received government support to begin the Royal Gymnastic Central Institute in Stockholm. The goal of this institution was to help others use exercise and massage therapy to treat health conditions.

1900 CE to the present

Massage was used to treat and rehabilitate injured soldiers who fought in World War I and World War II. The physiotherapy clinics in the U.S. treated roughly 75,000 men who were disabled while fighting in World War I. During World War II, soldiers suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder were treated by massage therapy.

Throughout history, massage therapy has been used to treat ailments and physical stress. Today, massage therapy continues to be a popular treatment for correcting long-term health problems and illnesses.