The History of Massage has been around as long as there have been human beings. Yes, without a doubt it is the world's oldest and simplest form of health care. Perhaps the oldest record of humans touching each other for the benefit of reduced pain and relaxation is within the Egyptian culture. The History of massage mirrors the entire historical record of the human species' here on Earth.
Chinese caricatures writing as far back as 3000 BC shows that massage, exercise, martial arts and meditation were considered essential to a balanced life. Actual documentation of massage as a healing method was demonstrated and its use documented on Huang Ti, the Yellow Emperor who died in 2598BC. Several documents dating back to 800A.D. also mention the use of very specific massage on muscles. Herbs, oils, and other substances rubbed on bodies were also described as bringing protection and healing, along with an abundant lifestyle. It has been proposed by some that Reflexology originated in China, but the Chinese do not take credit for the development of Reflexology, although it has become popular in China in the 21st century.
Hindu Writings as far back as 1800 BC, show that Ayurvedic the sacred traditional Indian system of medicine placed great emphasis on the therapeutic benefits of massage with aromatic oils and spices. It continues to be practiced widely in India and around the globe today.
Proof of massage in Europe dates back to Hippocrates of Asclepius (father of western medicine), he is quoted as saying "The Physician Must Be Experienced In Many Things," wrote Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, in the 5th century B. C., "but assuredly in rubbing.. . For rubbing can bind a joint that is too loose, and loosen a joint that is too rigid."
There were other prominent Greek and Roman physicians at the time of Hippocrates who were commonly associated with physical medicine. They used techniques of massage as their principle therapeutic modality. Julius Caesar was said to have been given a daily massage to treat neuralgia.
Per Henrik Ling founded Swedish Movement-cure in the nineteenth century in Stokholm, Sweden. Ling and his followers proved that injuries and aliments could be cured through various types of movement therapy. Ling and his group of students promoted and taught the "Swedish Movement Le Cure". Today it is more often referred to as Swedish Gymnastics.
A student of Swedish Gymnastics from Holland, Johann Mezger is credited with the revival of massage in medicine. He was a medical gymnastics educator prior to attending Medical College to become a Physician. He went on to open his own practice in Amsterdam utilizing massage and medical gymnastics as a part of his treatment process.
Sometime after Johan Mezger, came two American Physicians and brothers, George Henry Taylor and Charles Fayette Taylor, who studied Lings' Movement-cure in London while traveling and studying abroad. They later wrote several books, adding their own methodology to Lings's Swedish Medical System.
From our perspective the views on massage as a healing art have swung like a pendulum from positive to less than positive over the centuries.
Massage is an intuitive healing art that has been around for millennia. Massage therapy is based on our instinct to rub areas that hurt. We rub our belly when our stomach aches, parents rub their children when they scuff themselves and mothers rub and rock their infants when they cry. Massage therapy is a field that takes that very basic principle and evolves it into a science. The word ‘massage’ comes to us from the Arabic root “mass’h” which means to touch, knead or squeeze.
Author Robert Noah Calvert provides a thought provoking and detailed review of the History of Massage Therapy. A wonderful resource for both students taking the MBLEx and Instructors of Massage Therapy. Robert Calvert is the founder of "Massage Magazine".
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Get Massage Smart extends their thanks to the community of massage professionals that have made the following video presentation on the history of massage therapy possible. Special thanks to author Susan Salvo for her books Massage Therapy, Principle and Practice and Mosby's Pathology for Massage Therapists. Special thanks to Benny Vaughn for his video contribution to sports massage. Special thanks to David Lauterstein for his book "Putting the Soul Back in the Body: A Manual of Imaginative Anatomy for Massage Therapists". Get Massage Smart receives no compensation for the posting of this educational video.
This section is under construction last updated January 4, 2018
Massage has been around for as long as their have been humans. Their is no definitive history of massage. Much has been written about massage in various cultures. This time line has been put together for the purpose of helping massage students while in school and preparing to take their licensing examination. The time line was compiled using the resources listed below, to learn more about modern massage techniques see Techniques Micro-Blog.
Cave drawings depicted the use of massage as a form of health and healing.
Chinese have practiced a from of massage through acupressure, energy meridians, and acupuncture called amma. Amma is consider the beginning of all other therapies in China; manual and energetic. Today the Chinese refer to manual massage therapy as push-pull or tuina.
The legendary Chinese Emperor (Nei Ching) noted for contributing to China's earliest known medical writing. Described the use of touch for healing purposes.
An image of the feet with hieroglyphic symbols relating to parts of the body and individuals touching the feet dates back to 2330 BC, was found at the tomb of Ankhamor. Many believe that it represents the use of Reflexolgy.
The concepts of Ayurvedic medicine was developed by the Hindu culture in India. The physical, emotional and spiritual balance is energetically required for good health.
The ancient scribe Homer wrote about the oils used for rubbing and healing touch.
The Greek Physician Herodicus prescribed gymnastics for healing aches, pains and joint injury. Considered by some to be the father of gymnastics. Teacher of Greek Physician Hippocrates.
460 - 380 BC
The Greek Physician Hippocrates, often considered the father of modern medicine. He specifically used friction (called anatripsis) to treat dislocations and sprains.
The Chinese Text (Huangdi Nei JIng) by the infamous Yellow Emperor is the earliest surviving text of ancient Chinese medicine. The text contains extensive writings on Anmo touch therapy.
100 - 40 BC
In Rome; Julius Caesar used massage to help relieve his nueralgia and epilepsy.
25 BC -50 AD
Aulus Cornelius Celsus was a Roman Encyclopaedist known for his written extant "De Medicina", believed to be a portion of a large collection of Encyclopedia. He is a historian who recorded the only surviving record that bridges the gap between Hippocrates of Greece and the Roman Empire. So much had been written about and practiced during the age, that massage had become an established manual medicine.
130 - 200 AD
Galen is another Roman Physician who followed Hippocrates teachings. He taught a method that included the rubbing of gladiators as a form of healing and wrote a medical book on manual medicine that influenced western thinking for over 1500 years.
By the 6th Century the Chinese concepts of Anmo therapy had traveled to Japan. Where it was called Amma and Shiatsu (finger pressure). These therapies are based on the Asian concepts of energy points called (tusubos) in Japan; within a system referred to as the meridian system.
850 - 932 AD
As many have learned from the Epcot Earth time capsule, most of the great works of the Greek and Roman empires made there way over to the middle east. An Encyclopedic work by Persian Physician Rhazes, included descriptions of Arabic, Greek and Roman Medicinal healing therapies, including massage.
Much of the middle ages saw a decline in the use of Greek and Roman medicinal knowledge. Some of its manual therapies continued to be uses as a part of folk medicine.
980 - 1330 AD
Persian physician known as Avicenna wrote many medical books, the most noted was his "Cannons of Medicine", written during the crusades. It was considered a compilation of the practical and theoretical concepts of that time. This work included much of the medical work of Galen, emphasizing his enormous contribution to the world and makes multiple references to the use of massage.
Mondino dei Luzzi wrote the first treaties on anatomy called "Anothomia". European Universities during the 13th century offered the first degrees in Medicine.
1368 - 1644 AD
Within the MIng Dynasty the use of pediactric massage was first noted and referred to as tuina. Tuina has evolved into a highly detailed hands on massage technique, which is still used in China today.
1510 - 1590 AD
Ambroise Pare - was a Master Barber-Surgen in France, who during his life time invented many surgical techniques and medical insturments. While, serving in the army he advocated the use of massage to the stumps of amputated solders limbs. He was also the surgen for 4 French Kings.
1564 - 1662 AD
During the Life Time of Sir Fancis Bacon he wrote many letters on his observations of nature and the nature of man. Included within his work are his observations that massage improves the circulation of blood.
In Venice - An Italian physician (Girolamo Mercuriale) had access to the medical works of the Greeks and Romans at the Vatican. He spend years studying about their use of diet, exercise and hygiene for good health. In 1559 he published his book "Arte Gymnastica", which advocated exercise and physical therapy for athletes. It is considered the first written Renaissance work concerning sports medicine, although not the first one concerning exercise,
Another Renaissance Physician Timothy Bright, wrote his first medical text while teaching at Cambridge University. His text was divided into two main parts one on the importance of hygiene and the second on restoring health with baths, exercise and massage.
Ancient Chinese and Japanese texts are translated and published in the west. The Chinese text talks about the value of massaging infants from birth through their 3rd to 4th year of life. The Japanese text talks about the value of both passive and active massage techniques.
As the Renaissance was winding down two anatomical discoveries continued to support the value of massage therapy. In Italy Giovanni Borelli, recognized the physiological concept of muscular contraction. Mean while in Britain,William Harvey made the connection between the muscular contraction of the heart and blood circulation around the body.
During the mid 18th century a wave of gymnastic exercises and fitness, originally promoted by the Greeks and Romans regained popularity. Physician Simmon Tissot wrote a text recommended exercise and massage for various diseases.
Per Henrik Ling has had the designation of both the father of Swedish Massage and Physical Therapy since the mid 20th century. No one quite knows who first gave him this honor. His organized use of both passive and active movement and the 1813 founding of the Royal Gymnastic Central Institute in Stockholm, Sweden; have clearly earned him the honor of the father of physical therapy. Many have argued that he is not the father of massage therapy, including author Robert Noah Calvert.
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