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The Rich History of Massage Therapy

Massage therapy back rub

Image via Flickr by Zenspa1

Massage therapy has had a massive influence on cultures all around the world, developing a rich and varied history as a result. Massage therapists, as they learn the techniques of their trade, are taking part in centuries of history. One of the reasons there are so many types of massage is that so many cultures have had their impact on the art of massage therapy.

The Origins of Massage Therapy

As mentioned above, many countries and cultures have played a part in the development of modern-day massage therapy. Here are a few of the major influences in massage's early, vibrant history:

India, Around 3,000 B.C.

There is some debate as to what culture developed proper massage forms and techniques first, but some of the earliest documented evidence is from India around 3,000 B.C.

Under the umbrella of Ayurveda, a system of holistic medicine and healing, therapeutic massage played an important role in early India. Texts detailing massage's place in the Ayurvedic practices were written around 1500-500 B.C., but research suggests that the techniques were developed many centuries before it was documented. Meditation, aromatherapy, and other techniques we still use today made their appearances thousands of years ago through traditional Indian medicine.

China, Around 2,700 B.C.

Texts explaining the use of massage as a medical treatment in early China date back to around 2,700 B.C. The Chinese also implemented massage therapy into their medical practices, believing health issues were caused by imbalances of energy in the body. Massages were said to open up these passageways to make the body's energy flow, staving off disease and illness.

Chinese practices developed into several holistic healing massages and body treatments we still use today, such as acupressure and acupuncture.

Egypt, Around 2,500 B.C.

Hieroglyphics in Egyptian tombs show massages being performed thousands of years ago. Around 2,500 B.C., Egyptians developed the field of reflexology, a massage philosophy that's still popular today.

The Egyptians believed in the interconnectedness of the body and that applying pressure to one area might treat another area of the body. Hand and foot reflex massages were created as a way of treating the body as a whole.

Japan, Around 1,000 B.C.

As Chinese massage techniques spread across Asia, Japanese Buddhist monks began to practice their own styles after training in the Chinese methods. The monks practicing the Chinese method of Tui Na eventually developed it into Anma, the earliest form of Shiatsu massage.

Shiatsu massage and Ashiatsu massage, which you can often find on many modern massage clinics' service lists, became popular methods of increasing blood flow and circulation throughout the body, as well as relieving stress and promoting healing.

Greece, Around 800-500 B.C.

As the influence of massage therapy spread into Europe, Greece was one of the first places to make their mark on the practice.

Grecians, known for their focus on physicality and athleticism, developed methods of relieving pressure and knots from muscles in the body. This early form of sports massage therapy allowed people to reverse some of the strains on their bodies from their active lifestyles.

Cue Hippocrates - around 500 B.C. - who is considered to be one of the first to develop the basis for modern medicine. Many of us know him through the Hippocratic Oath, which physicians take to dedicate themselves to treating people to the best of their ability. Hippocrates prescribed massage treatments as a way to promote the healing of injuries, which helped bring massage therapy to widespread use in the Western world.

The Rise of Western Massage

Arguably, Western massage techniques stayed much the same from fifth-century B.C. Grecian practices until the early 1800s. Belief in the benefit of massage and the practice of early techniques grew throughout Europe after making their early start in Greece, until a Swedish physician changed everything.

Swedish Massage

Perhaps the largest influence and catalyst to the rise of Western massage was the development of Swedish massage. The creation of the foundation of this massage modality by the Dutch physician Johann Georg Mezger around 1868 is often attributed to the Swedish fencing instructor and doctor Pehr Henrik Ling. This is possibly due to a translation error, and is the reason we call it "Swedish massage" instead of calling it - perhaps more correctly - "Dutch massage" (1).

However, there is still some controversy about the exact origins. Both men played a part in developing the Swedish massage techniques into the massively popular treatment the Western world partakes in today. Regardless of who came up with it first, the Swedish method revolutionized the art of massage.

Swedish massage was developed as a way to treat gymnasts and other athletes using strokes, friction, kneading, and tapping movements on soft tissue to do everything from loosening tight muscles and relieving cramps to promoting healthy blood circulation and lymphatic drainage. It's the massage philosophy most tied to modern scientific research of the body and its systems.

Now, Swedish massage is the go-to technique for massage therapists in the Western world. Its many benefits include increased flexibility, an improved immune system, pain management, and mental relaxation. The whole-body health benefits of Swedish massage are perhaps why the style has grown so popular.

Modern Massage Services

Today, you can find massage services and massage businesses all around the world. One of the oldest medical practices is still one of the most popular, though the reasons we take advantage of it may sometimes be different.

Though many of the tried-and-true cultural massages are still prevalent today, new science-based practices have become popular to alleviate a wider range of issues and symptoms. Whether it's an athlete taking advantage of a muscle-relaxing deep tissue massage or a couple's Swedish massage combined with aromatherapy techniques, the world of massage therapy benefits all and shows no signs of slowing.

Various Massage Styles

Here is a quick reference of some of today's most popular massage techniques, aside from Swedish massage:

Aromatherapy Massage

Aromatherapy can be used with any bare-skin massage, as it pertains only to the use of scented essential oils. In aromatherapy, it is believed that different plants and scents can help with different conditions, such as lavender for relaxation and tea tree for decongestion. Aromatherapy can be used with many types of massages, but it is most often paired with a Swedish-style service in Western spas.

Couple's Massage

A popular service menu item at spas is the couple's massage. This refers only to the act of two people receiving a massage together in the same room, each with their own massage therapist. Couple's massage is most commonly Swedish.

Deep Tissue Massage

A deep tissue massage is meant to address muscle knots and deep muscle strain. It's used most often to treat chronic pain and injuries and is one of the most intense massage styles, though not necessarily painful. Quite the opposite, the deep tissue massage is meant as a pain treatment and is beneficial to many people who experience consistent muscle pains.

Hot Stone Massage

One of the earliest known uses of hot stones for massage purposes is from Chinese texts from thousands of years ago, though many cultures and countries also took part in the practice. A hot stone massage consists of a heated stone being placed on the body for therapeutic purposes. The tradition was popularized in the Western world in the 1990s and is now a common offering at massage clinics.

Myofascial Release Massage

This gentle massage is a physical therapy practice that consists of light strokes over trigger points to relax muscles. This technique focuses on relieving tension and tightness in muscle groups and tissue. Though it was developed to treat myofascial pain syndrome, it's not exclusive to sufferers of the syndrome.

Prenatal Massage

A prenatal massage, sometimes called a pregnancy massage, is used address any discomfort in pregnant women. Its main purpose is to provide relaxation, but it can be customized to the mother's needs, such as alleviating lower back pain, using techniques specifically developed to safely provide comfort to a pregnant woman's body.

Reflexology Massage

With its roots in Egyptian medical practices, reflexology focuses mainly on massages to the hands and feet to treat other places in the body. According to the reflexology philosophy, different parts of the feet and hands are connected to different parts of the body, and by massaging the corresponding area, the reflexologist can treat its connected area.

For instance, reflexology states that the ball of the foot is connected to the heart and chest. The arch of the foot is connected to the kidney, liver, and pancreas. People may seek a reflexologist's service for myriad reasons, including stress relief, insomnia, injuries, and digestive disorders.

Scalp Massage

As its name suggests, this popular spa treatment focuses on the scalp, head, and neck region. A scalp massage is meant to soothe skin and relax muscles. The massage therapist will often work warm oils through your scalp.

Shiatsu Massage

The Japanese Shiatsu style consists of applying rhythmic pressure to the body without oils. Shiatsu is conventionally performed on a mat on the floor and doesn't call for the removal of clothing like many other types of massages. It's generally used to reduce stress and treat chronic body pains.

Sports Massage

Sports massages is designed to loosen up and accelerate the healing of muscles, as well as to prevent injuries. It's a more aggressive massage that addresses some of the strains and tensions of athletes' bodies. Though it was designed with athletes in mind, it's also a great massage service for anyone who's regularly physically active.

Thai Massage

A Thai massage is a clothed massage where the massage therapist stretches the recipient in a series of yoga-like poses. Thai massages are generally performed on a floor mat. This type of massage popularized in Thailand is actually a blend of influences from Southeastern Asian holistic traditions, such as Chinese and especially Indian Ayurvedic practices. The spread of Buddhism from India was an important catalyst in the creation of Thai massage, which is largely used to promote stress relief, energy, and flexibility.

How Do I Become a Massage Therapist?

The path to becoming a massage therapist is similar to any service provider's: study, practice, and get certified.

Education

Your first step to becoming a massage therapist is enrolling in a massage education program. Generally, these programs last from six months to one year, depending on what school you choose to attend. You will take courses covering massage techniques and some science courses to develop a thorough understanding of massage effects and benefits.

Experience Requirements

During and after your educational program, you will likely need to complete a certain number of practice hours before you can successfully obtain your certification. These practice hours can be completed at a student clinic, during an internship, or directly through your program. These requirements largely depend on the state in which you reside and are seeking your certification.

Licenses and Certifications

At the end of your path to becoming a massage therapist, you will need to acquire the licenses and certification required by your state. You'll first need to take the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination or the Board Certification Exam in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

After you pass your examination, you need to apply for a state license, which may require proof of education, examination results, and information about your liability insurance.

Once you have your state license, you may then offer your professional services to clients. You may need to continue your education and will eventually have to recertify, but you will be a licensed professional massage therapist once you complete this process.

What Can Concorde Do for You?

If you want to start down your path to training to becoming a massage therapist, explore what Concorde can do for you. Our massage therapy program can be completed in as little as 11 months and provides the training required to so that you may pursue your career as a massage therapist. Our program teaches you the knowledge and skills you need to succeed and also prepares you for the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination. Train to start your health care career in months, not years, at Concorde.


Footnotes 1. "Pages From History: Swedish Massage," Massage Magazine, https://www.massagemag.com/magazine-2002-issue100-history100-24026/

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