The Healing Art of Massage Therapy


“The way to health is to have an aromatic bath and a scented massage every day.”

~Hippocrates

 History of Massage Therapy

Massage therapy has been around since the 30th century BC. Around 3000 BC, India with its practice of Ayurvedic medicine (whole-body holistic healing), is home to the first known recording of massage therapy traditions. Ayurvedic medicine believes that illness is due to living out of harmony with the environment. The belief is that health and wellness are interconnected to mind, body, and spirit.

In 2700 BC, the first Chinese text, “The Yellow Emperors Classic Book of Internal Medicine,” was written. In China, massage therapy included the disciplines of traditional medicine, martial arts, Buddhism, and Taoism. The practice of touch was essential to their spiritual yoga training. Practitioners of Chinese massage believed that disease and illness was due to insufficient or an imbalance in energy pathways. Massage allowed the energy to flow properly so the body can heal itself naturally.

Massage was a part of the medical tradition as depicted in paintings found in Egyptian tombs in 2500 BC. The drawings showed individuals kneading one another. Egyptians are credited for creating reflexology. Reflexology is the practice of applying pressure to certain areas on the hands and feet. Those areas correspond with certain areas of the body that need healing.

In the eighth century BC, Greek athletes used massage to stay conditioned for competition, a practice that continues today. In the fifth century BC, Hippocrates introduced his colleagues to friction therapy, the practice of rubbing the body to heal itself. We’re all familiar with this practice. Think about the last time you bumped or hit a body part against something. You immediately rubbed the area. In the first century BC, a physician named Galen used massage therapy on Roman emperors to treat injuries and disease.

Massage therapy continued to gain popularity. From 1600 to 1800, scientists recognized the benefits of massage. This is when Swedish physician, Per Henrik Ling, developed the Swedish Gymnastics Movement System. It combined stroking, pressing, squeezing and striking with medical gymnastics and physiology to treat physical issues.

Benefits of Massage Therapy

“Massage has had a positive medical effect on every condition we’ve looked at.”

~Tiffany Field, Ph.D.

Director, Touch Research Institute, University of Miami

Massages gained a reputation as excessive and self-indulgent pleasures of the wealthy. Therapists were not given due respect and were called “masseuse” and “masseur”. Now, massage therapy is used in the healthcare industry. Massage therapy has its place in hospitals, nursing homes, and birthing centers. It’s not uncommon to see massage therapy as a part of integrative health and medicine (the practice of using all therapeutic approaches to attain the best health and healing outcome).

Massage therapy is used for healing and preventative measures in:

  • Internal health
  • External health
  • Injured muscles
  • Pain treatment
  • Relaxation
  • Improved circulation
  • Stress management
  • Improved balance

Popular Types of Massage

“Our bodies communicate to us clearly and specifically, if we are willing to listen.”

~Shakti Gawain

Swedish massage is the most popular massage today. Using warm massage oil or lotion, the therapist uses long strokes and kneads the body in a circular motion. These movements are applied to the top layers of the muscle. People find Swedish massages very gentle and relaxing. Swedish massage is performed on a massage table.

Shiatsu massage, developed in Japan, is a technique that raises the energy level of the recipient. This increased energy facilitates improved organ function thereby stimulating the body to naturally resist illness. Using thumbs, fingers and palms, Shiatsu stimulates pressure points on the body rebalancing its energy.  Shiatsu is performed on a mat on the floor.

Sports massage, as the name implies, warms and loosens the muscles before and in-between events. It helps to keep the athletes limber, increases range of motion, and helps with muscle recovery.

Hot Stone massage starts with a Swedish massage. Then warm basalt stones are placed at certain points on the body. This facilitates muscle relaxation aiding the body to relieve stiffness. This provides the therapist access to deeper muscle layers. The heated stones have a sedative effect. If you are an insomniac, this is the treatment for you.

So, which type of massage is best for you? The modality of massage depends on your job, activities, stress levels, and symptoms.  Everyone practices differently so make sure you find a therapist that is a good fit for you.  It’s also important to choose a massage therapist that’s certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB).

“Nurturing yourself is not selfish – it’s essential to your survival and your well-being.”

~Renée Peterson Trudeau