The History of Massage

At the beginning of January, I began Massage Therapy with a new burst of energy I hadn’t felt in a long time. I had wanted to undertake this program for a while but was persuaded to step into a different course. I decided, at long last, that I’ll do what I wanted. I jumped in Massage, and my life has begun to change in ways I hadn’t thought possible. I became more aware of myself, of the things I’m doing, and where I want to go has sharpened into a sort of clarity that, at first (and still does), took me by surprise.

Medicine is a complex subject. We live in a world where allopathic methods of healing are the norm. We use chemicals to heal. Pills and liquids, things created by man, while the natural remedies of nature still rest in our forests and in our gardens and within the palms of our hands. My interest lies in holistic, naturalistic methodologies. Each person has the power to be their own healer. It’s a matter of putting in the effort, unearthing the knowledge, and putting it to good use.

In this manner, I decided I wanted to be a Massage Therapist. Massage, on its own, provides a lot of benefits to health. It promotes relaxation, can help ease stiff muscles, helps blood and lymph circulate through the body, and can bring relief to those in pain. On March 4th, I’ll be undertaking my Final in Theory. I have nine chapters which I’ll be tested on, and part of the test will cover the History of Massage Therapy, a subject that I have found to be filled with interesting tidbits.

Google Images

When class began, we were told we didn’t need to read the book right away.

I was used to reading my books ahead of time because I knew the teacher was likely going to ask questions about the chapter. We would be expected to answer the questions in the middle of the text. My teacher, however, said that the approach he takes with the class is simple – we start with the basics and build our knowledge and understanding from the ground up.

So, we start with history. The start of the book began by defining healing as the restoration of wellbeing. Massage uses Professional Touch, which is a skilled touched that has an intended outcome. It was also stressed that this sort of approach will bring about healing. Massage works on the body’s largest organ – skin. Because of this, knowing how to touch the body, how to convey safety and protection, is important.

Which meant that we had to start learning about Appropriate Touch and Inappropriate Touch, two things which are vital for a Massage Therapist to understand. We also had to understand that the understanding of these touches varies depending on culture, religion, age, life experiences, and sex.

There was a highlight stating that touch itself conveys thoughts, but that the meaning of these touches can be lost or confused. Due to this, Massage Therapy is a mix of care-centered touch with the necessary conversation.

The History of Massage itself is a long one. It is discussed in books dated as far back as 500 B.C., and Massage itself became the foundation of osteopathy, chiropractic care, and physical therapy. Where Massage originated is impossible to say as it’s a human’s nature to rub and knead sore parts of our body, but many of the terms associated with Massage Therapy have roots in French and Chinese.

Anmo, Amma, and Tui’na are all Chinese. These mean to press and rub or to push and pull. Another medicine is acupuncture and friction therapy, both which tie into holistic healing. At the center of Massage History are a few important people, some who are gone from this world but are still known by many – by doctors, by philosophers, and by the curious.

Google Images

Hippocrates of Cos was a Greek physician who specifically described the benefits of anointing and massage. He was also the first to do so. The quotes above, with natural forces being the true healers of disease, stuck with me. I like the quotes I tend to stumble upon. Hippocrates, while a physician, was also noted for using massage as part of a healthcare practice. Most people back in the day understood that massage was vital to helping the body stay healthy. People in our generation are starting to turn back to natural methods of being healthy and alive. A good turn, truly.

Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839) was the one who “founded” Swedish Massage, though it was more along the lines that he was responsible for it being credited and popularised. He made it more accessible to the world. In class, we discussed how his interest in Massage Therapy was sparked by his own troubles. He had gout in his elbow. This is what legend says, but it points out that he turned to massage for relief.

In 1856, Charles and George Taylor introduced Swedish Massage to the US.

Google Images

Once the practice of massage came to the United States, things were doing well for the first few decades. In the late 1800s, things began to change as scandals swept across the nation. This made things difficult for those who practiced massage honestly, and it would take a great deal of time to fix the damage that had been dealt to an honest profession.

Many of the scandals were centered around false claims in regard to skills and education, stealing of clients, and charging high fees for services rendered. The integrity of massage therapy was tainted and eroded due to the inability of many and a lack of skills and proper education.

It wasn’t until 1894 that a brighter future was glimpsed when eight women created the “Society of Trained Masseuses”. Of this organization, two communities, Charted Society of Massage and Medical Gymnastics, came to exist. The main purpose was to provide credibility and good standing for Massage Therapy and providing care to those who needed it.

In the text, it mentioned that, in 1909, 600 were said to come in for massage.

In 1939, the numbers jumped to over 12,000 people.

A period of thirty (30) years made a great difference, and none of it could have happened without the people who fought to keep it alive. Between 1854 to 1918, Massage went from near extinction to a thriving profession.

Women played the largest role. Massage Therapy itself is an industry where women rule. In China, back in the day, it was the blind who were taught massage, but that’s a different conversation for a different day. Currently, 70-85% of Massage Therapists are female. The field of massage is, without doubt, dominated by women.

Google Images


Dr. Randolf Stone, an American physician, devised Polarity Therapy. This was the first time energy medicine was mentioned for more than a brief moment in the class (we had discussed the Chakra System and its part in Massage). Following him was Dr. James Be Mennell (1916) who had divided Massage Therapy into two (2) categories: Mechanical and Reflexes and that Massage Therapy has a direct effect on the body in four ways:

  • Aids in Venus Return (Brings the blood to the surface)
  • Promotes Lymph Movement
  • Stretches Connective Tissues
  • Stimulates the Stomach, Small Intestine, and Colon

Afterward, we discussed that Elizabeth Dicke, a German physiotherapist, developed Connective Tissue Massage in the 1920s and that her own interest was sparked due to the fact that she had an impairment of circulation in her right leg. The ending comment on this is that many of the people who get an interest in massage find their passion in it because it helped them heal and overcome their own barriers.

An ending note of the chapt was that a lack of exercise contributes to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression. It also mentioned that another form of energy medicine is acupressure and that, in the 1980s, ABMP and AMTA were founded (Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals and American Massage Therapy Association).

It wasn’t until 1988 that a National Certification was proposed. Four years later, in 1992, it was put in effect. In 2009, the MBLEx was put into effect as the test to take to get licensed for Massage Therapy. The education requirements for Massage Therapy are set through the state and the average schooling is 500-1000 hours of in-class work (my own school hits around 750 hours).

The history of massage is likely far more complex and drawn out than what’s mentioned here, but this is information that’s likely going to be on my test. Writing it out, going through my notes, putting it together in a manner like this where everyone else can read it, helps me learn the material a bit better. I find it interesting. I can only hope that everyone else does, too.

Healing begins with the self, and, from there, can it spread.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s