The History and Evolution of Massage Therapy

history of massage therapy

When people feel stressed out or sore, one of the best ways to relieve themselves is through massage therapy. Using various techniques, pressures, and movements, a licensed massage therapist can help work out and release stress and tension in their clients. Massage therapy can be an enjoyable experience that significantly provides stress relief and helps heal injuries or support overall wellness. But where did massage therapy start?

The origins and history of massage therapy go back thousands of years, making it one of the oldest wellness practices around. Over time, massage therapy has evolved and broken out into more specific practices like sports massage made for athletes and Swedish full-body massage. This blog will delve deeper into the background of massage therapy.

Top 5 Benefits of Massage Therapy

Stress Relief & Reduction

Stress from home, work, or both can have long-term effects on your overall wellness. Massage therapy is a great way to release the stress your body is retaining and helps you relax.

Improved Sleep

Tired of restless nights due to stress, anxiety, or muscle soreness? Massage therapy can help you unwind and improve your overall wellness. You’ll be able to fall asleep easier and stay asleep for longer. When you feel better, you’ll start to sleep better too.

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Athletes and the occasional gym-goer can greatly benefit from regular massage therapy. You may already take rest days or have a routine for recovery—make massage therapy part of the process. Massage therapy will target those heavily used muscles and relieve tension so you can perform better and avoid injury.

Lower Heart Rate & Blood Pressure

Stress is often associated with high blood pressure and high heart rates. High blood pressure can lead to several health problems, with some directly affecting the heart. Studies have shown that massage therapy is an effective (and affordable) way to control blood pressure.

Improved Immune Function

Today you need all the immune support you can get. A massage can go a long way in supporting your body’s natural defenses. Researchers believe massage therapy can increase a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes that help shield your body.

Can Massaging Your Scalp Improve Hair Growth? Evidence suggests that frequent scalp massages can help boost hair growth. The best part is that it’s a simple process. Keep reading for more information!
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The Origin of Massage Therapy and Ancient Methods

Whether you’re considering becoming a licensed massage therapist or you’re getting a massage—you’ve probably wondered where the practice comes from.

The first signs of what we know as massage therapy appeared in China, India, and Egypt. Back in 2700 BC, a Chinese text called The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine” offered a glimpse into the origins of massage therapy. This ancient text has lasted through the years and is still referenced today.

In Egypt, the first indications of massage therapy appeared in tomb paintings dating back to 2500 BC. It’s believed to have been part of their medical traditions.

Around 3000 BC or earlier, massage therapy traditions were practiced in India. They practiced Ayurveda, which combined medicine, meditation, relaxation, and aromatherapy—all of which are still practiced today.

Athletes and Philosophers Introduce Massage to Greece

As massage therapy grew in the east, it began spreading to the west. Sometime between 800 and 700 BCE, massage therapy was used in Greece as a way for athletes to prepare their bodies for competitions. Doctors would use herbs and oils during massages to treat medical conditions as well.

Famous Greek Hippocrates, widely known as the “father of medicine,” would treat physical ailments with a friction massage technique in the 5th century BCE. He would also prescribe a combination of massage, proper diet, regular exercise, fresh air, and music to restore wellness—all of which we continue practicing today.

Massage Therapy in Roman Empire

During the first century BCE in Rome, a physician named Galen used massage therapy to treat various physical ailments and diseases.

Similar to Hippocrates, Galen incorporated massage therapy in part with healthy diets and regular exercise as the key to maintaining a healthy body. This type of treatment was available to the rich and powerful at home, while the masses could access it via public baths, where trainers or doctors would deliver massages. The idea was to have people bathe first and then receive a massage to stimulate circulation and loosen their joints.

Europe Recognizes Massage’s Healing Powers

Over time, massage therapy became less popular in the west until about 1600 CE. That’s when breakthroughs in medical technology and pharmacology began shifting the foundation of modern medicine away from manual methods of healing like massage therapy.

Sometime between 1600 and 1800 CE, several physicians and scientists took note of massage therapy benefits. Yet, at the time, there were few advances in massage therapy. That changed in the 19th century, when Swedish doctor Per Henrik Ling created the Swedish Gymnastic Movement System. This type of massage therapy incorporated stroking, pressing, squeezing, and striking to treat physical ailments.

The United States Massage and the Wellness Boom

Massage therapy arrived in the US as early as the 1700s when women called ‘rubbers’ would deliver manual rubbing and friction techniques on orthopedic patients.

Over a century later in 1850, medical gymnasts would use movement and manipulation for similar purposes as Ling did. As the practice gained more popularity toward the end of the 1800s, so did the titles of ‘masseur’ and ‘masseuse.’

These massage therapy practitioners were trained in the art of soft tissue manipulation. They also used hydrotherapy in conjunction with massage therapy, which some say sparked the origins of today’s spa services.

By the early 1900s, massage therapy had built a large demand. The Swedish message evolved, and physiotherapists began using it as a medicine, helping it become a widely accepted practice. To further legitimize it, physical theory became a licensed practice in the 1950s. The American Massage Therapy Association was formed and served as the foundation for today’s ethics and educational standards.

Become a Licensed Massage Therapist

Massage therapy has a long history for a good reason—it works. But not just anyone can deliver its healing powers; only licensed therapists can. It takes training and education to understand how various techniques can improve the overall health and wellness of patients. If you want to make a major impact on people suffering from physical ailments and stress, then you need to check out Blue Cliff College. Our Massage Therapy Diploma program provides education in physiology and pathophysiology that serves as the foundation for specific massage therapy techniques. You could complete the program in as little as nine months and be prepared for massage therapy licensure or registry in several states as well as eligibility to attend the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork Examination. See all the program details here.

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