The History of Massage

The history of massage therapy spans thousands of years and many countries. Ancient records from both Eastern and Western civilizations document the use of touch for healing and rejuvenation. Many of the techniques and approaches used today can trace their beginnings to this rich past. Even in ancient times, massage was used to relieve pain, heal injuries, promote relaxation, and even prevent and cure illnesses.

The earliest records on the history of massage therapy indicate that it was first considered a divinely-created system of natural healing. In India, a form of massage called Ayurveda appeared as early as 3000 B.C., and spread throughout the region, including Southeast Asia.

The goal of this ancient practice was to achieve natural and holistic (mind and body) balance through harmony within the individual and with the environment. This balance, in turn, led to physical healing and internal well-being. The treatments include the use of scents, color, sound, and touch therapy, in addition to special diets and herbs.

Written accounts of massage therapy began to appear in China around 2700 BC. The ancient Chinese developed massages for medical uses and relaxation. They combined traditional Chinese medicine, martial arts, and spiritual beliefs from Buddhism and Taoism. These practices focused on correcting imbalances or deficiencies in the body’s energy pathways. Some of the techniques that survive to modern times include specialized exercise, acupuncture, acupressure, and herbal remedies.

The ancient Egyptians also began developing their own form of massage therapy around this time. Written records and tomb paintings depict individuals getting massages. It is believed that what is now known as reflexology was created by Egyptians around 2500 B.C. Reflexology focuses on specific points of the body to heal and rejuvenate.

From China, massage therapy was brought to Japan by Japanese monks who were studying Buddhism. This was around 1000 B.C. The monks adopted aspects of traditional Chinese medicine, including massage techniques. Over time, this gave rise to the Japanese form of massage called Shiatsu. Similar to Chinese massage, shiatsu aims to raise an individual’s energy levels to optimize function and natural resistance to illnesses.

After hundreds of years, as contact and trade among nations increased, the principles and practices of Eastern massage therapy reached the Western world.

Around 800 B.C., athletes in Ancient Greece began using massage to condition their bodies before competitions. Hippocrates, considered the father of Western medicine, used “rubbing” and massage to treat injuries. The use of plant oils and herbs for medical conditions was also popular at the time. A form of aromatherapy was used by Greek women as beauty treatments.

From Greece, massage therapy was adopted in Rome beginning in 200 B.C. The public baths that ancient Rome is well-known for were also where ordinary Romans could go to receive massages from physicians and trainers. Royalty and wealthy Romans, of course, had access to private massages in their homes.

Modern Day Massage Therapy

After experiencing a period of decline in popularity, the benefits of massage therapy were rediscovered by Western medicine around the 1600s. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that massage therapy began to be more widely recognized.

In the 1800s, the Swedish doctor Per Henrik Ling combined massage with his knowledge of physiology and medical gymnastics to create the Swedish Gymnastic Movement System. Today, he is credited with developing the basis of the technique now known as Swedish massage.

Modern massage therapy continues to re-discover and adapt ancient practices from cultures all over the world. Massage now enjoys recognition as a natural healing method to complement medical treatments. Many people now use regular massage therapy to reduce stress, maintain wellness, and prevent disease.