Massage Therapy Evolution
While almost everyone loves a good session of massage, but have you ever paused to wondered who invented massage therapy and what is the history of wellness massage? Where did this mystical method of healing come from?
Origins of Massage Therapy
Massage therapy history dates back thousands of years to ancient cultures that believed in it’s medical benefits. According to some studies, archaeological evidence of massage has been found in many ancient civilizations including China, India, Japan, Korea, Egypt, Rome, Greece, and Mesopotamia.
The Tomb of Akmanthor (also known as “The Tomb of the Physician”) in Saqqara, Egypt depicts two men having work done on their feet and hands, presumably massage.
Huangdi Neijing is composed during the Chinese Spring and Autumn period. The Nei-jing is a compilation of medical knowledge known up to that date, and is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Massage is referred to in 30 different chapters of the Nei Jing. It specifies the use of different massage techniques and how they should be used in the treatment of specific ailments, and injuries. Also known as “The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon”, the text refers to previous medical knowledge from the time of the Yellow Emperor (approx 2700 BC), misleading some into believing the text itself was written during the time of the Yellow Emperor (which would predate written history).
“In the Iliad and the Odyssey the massage with oils and aromatic substances is mentioned as a means to relax the tired limbs of warriors and a way to help the treatment of wounds,”
Bian Que, the earliest known Chinese physician uses massage in medical practice.
Jīvaka Komarabhācca, also known as Shivago Komarpaj, the founder of Traditional Thai massage (Nuad Boran) and Thai medicine. According to the Pāli Buddhist Canon, Jivaka was Shakyamuni Buddha’s physician. He codified a healing system that combines acupressure, reflexology, and assisted yoga postures. Traditional Thai massage is generally based on a combination of Indian and Chinese traditions of medicine. Jivaka is known today as “Father Doctor” in Thailand.
A possible biblical reference documents daily “treatments” with oil of myrrh as a part of the beauty regimen of the wives of Xerxes (Esther, 2:12).
Hippocrates wrote “The physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing”.
Charaka Samhita believed to be the oldest of the three ancient treatises of Ayurvedic medicine, including massage. Sanskrit records indicate that massage had been practiced in India long before the beginning of recorded history.
Dr Sun Si Miao introduces ten new massage techniques and systematized the treatment of childhood diseases using massage therapy.
China establishes a department of massage therapy within the Office of Imperial Physicians.
Medical knowledge, including that of massage, made its way from Rome to Persia in the Middle Ages. Many of Galen’s manuscripts, for instance, were collected and translated by Hunayn ibn Ishaq in the 9th century. Later in the 11th century copies were translated back into Latin, and again in the 15th and 16th centuries, when they helped enlighten European scholars as to the achievements of the Ancient Greeks. This renewal of the Galenic tradition during the Renaissance played a very important part in the rise of modern science.
One of the greatest Persian medics was Avicenna, also known as Ibn Sina, who lived from 980AD to 1037AD. His works included a comprehensive collection and systematisation of the fragmentary and unorganised Greco-Roman medical literature that had been translated Arabic by that time, augmented by notes from his own experiences. One of his books, Al-Qānūn fī aṭ-Ṭibb (The Canon of Medicine) has been called the most famous single book in the history of medicine in both East and West. Avicenna excelled in the logical assessment of conditions and comparison of symptoms and took special note of analgesics and their proper use as well as other methods of relieving pain, including massage.
Evidence of massage abortion, involving the application of pressure to the pregnant abdomen, can be found in one of the bas reliefs decorating the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It depicts a demon performing such an abortion upon a woman who has been sent to the underworld. This is the oldest known visual representation of abortion.
Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, and Pierre-Martial Cibot, French missionaries in China translate summaries of Huangdi Neijing, including a list of medical plants, exercises and elaborate massage techniques, into the French language, thereby introducing Europe to the highly developed Chinese system of medicine, medical-gymnastics, and medical-massage.
Pehr Henrik Ling, a Swedish physical therapist, and teacher of medical-gymnastics is born. Ling has often been erroneously credited for having invented “Classic Massage” aka “Swedish Massage”, and has been called the “Father of Massage”.
Frenchman Pierre-Martial Cibot publishes ‘Notice du Cong-fou des Bonzes Tao-see’ also known as “The Cong-Fou of the Tao-Tse”, a French language summary of medical techniques used by Taoist priests. According to Joseph Needhan, Cibot’s work “was intended to present the physicists and physicians of Europe with a sketch of a system of medical gymnastics which they might like to adopt—or if they found it at fault they might be stimulated to invent something better. This work has long been regarded as of cardinal importance in the history of physiotherapy because it almost certainly influenced the Swedish founder of the modern phase of the art, Per Hendrik Ling. Cibot had studied at least one Chinese book, but also got much from a Christian neophyte who had become expert in the subject before his conversion.”
The Royal Gymnastic Central Institute for the training of gymnastic instructors was opened in Stockholm, Sweden, with Pehr Henrik Ling appointed as principal. Ling developed what he called the “Swedish Movement Cure.” Ling died in 1839, having previously named his pupils as the repositories of his teaching. Ling and his assistants left little proper written account of their methods.
Dutch massage practitioner Johan Georg Mezger applies French terms to name five basic massage techniques, and coins the phrase “Swedish massage system”. These techniques are still known by their French names (effleurage (long, gliding strokes), petrissage (lifting and kneading the muscles), friction (firm, deep, circular rubbing movements), tapotement (brisk tapping or percussive movements), and vibration (rapidly shaking or vibrating specific muscles)).
Considering the long history of massage, its incorporation into Western medicine is only in its infancy. The potential for growth and research of the healing properties of therapeutic massage and body work has gained great momentum over the last fifty years, and the public demand for massage therapy is at an all-time high.
As a preventative practice, therapeutic massage is used in spas, gyms and work places all over the country. Using massage therapy to promote balance and maintain internal and external health is something that is now a standard part of the North American lifestyle.
In the health care industry, massage is commonly used in hospitals, nursing homes and birthing centers. It is also used in physical therapy and in chiropractic clinics to treat pain, increase circulation and expedite the healing of injured muscles.