Massage – the oldest medical practice


Antar Marc shows the history of massage therapy, one of the most commonly practised forms of holistic medicine.

==Massage Therapists heal patients by using their touch to manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body. This therapeutic touch is used to relieve pain, help heal injuries, improve circulation, relieve stress, increase relaxation, and aid with general health and wellness.

What we know about massage today may be different from what it started out as, but the basic practices and the techniques involved are very similar, and ultimately, they work to improve health, wellness, vitality, and improving the body’s natural functionality through the healing touch of the therapist.

The History of Massage Therapy

Ancient China (2700 BCE)

Ancient China AcupressureThe earliest date of origin for massage therapy was back in 2700 B.C.E, which was about 4700 years ago. At this date, there was a historical book created involving Chinese medicinal traditions and it was titled The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine. This book was not published in English until the mid-1900s, but it is now considered one of the basic books taught in acupuncture school, detailing the practices and techniques that are used in current Oriental Medicine and Massage Therapy. Among these are acupuncture and acupressure, both of which are closely related to each other.

Acupuncture involves the use of needles placed at meridian points to promote better health and wellness. Similar to acupuncture, acupressure involves the use of hands, fingers, and sometimes massage tools on precise locations in your body to provide similar health and wellness. The only difference in acupressure is that a practitioner does not use needles, but applies pressure in the same spots where needles would typically go.

Ancient Egypt (2500 BCE)

Ancient Egypt ReflexologyAbout 200 years later, the reflexology technique was developed by the ancient Egyptians and this was a vital part of some of the largest cultures in ancient history, including ancient Greece and Rome. Imagine a traditional massage therapy technique (which was new at the time) being used to promote the health of some of the largest empires. This underscores the effectiveness of its use back then and it is still around today, performing important tasks for some of the most experienced athletes. Consider this to be the time from when reflexology techniques started to be created.

Reflexology is based on the idea that the body has many reflexes that come from the feet (we know this because of ticklish reflexes) and these reflexes mirror every organ in the body. While the use of reflexology has ancient roots, Western medicine and current healthcare techniques have yet to fully understand everything that reflexology has to offer, which is why research continues to be vital in this area. This form of massage applies pressure to a certain part of the foot, which affects a particular organ in the body.

Ayurvedic Medicine (1500 BCE)

Ayurvedic MedicineFast forward about a thousand years in time and you will find that massage therapy shifts to the ancient Hindu practice of Ayurveda Medicine.

Ayurvedic Medicine holds that the mind, body, and spirit are all connected and when one substance is not functioning properly, it negatively affects the others. This symbiotic relationship explains how health, illness, and medicine are viewed and practised in Ayurvedic Medicine.

Japanese Massage (1000 BCE)

Japanese MassageAround the year 1000 BCE, Japanese Buddhist monks, who were training in China, were introduced to Tui Na, which is a massage modality in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Upon returning to Japan, the monks added their own modifications to Tui Na, which eventually became its own distinct massage modality, known as Anma.

During the 1940’s, Anma, along with massage techniques from other modalities, were codified by Tokujiro Namikoshi into what we now know as Shiatsu.

Ancient Greece (800-700 BCE)

Ancient GreeceOne of the most influential cultures in history were the ancient Greeks. Because the Greeks had a strong sense of a physical culture, it is no surprise that massage was a common practice. Specific techniques included decreasing the “knots” throughout muscle tissue in the body through therapeutic rubbing. This practice is very similar to modern-day techniques employed by Sports Massage Therapists.

Hippocrates (500 BCE)

HippocratesThe fifth century BCE era was vital to the history of medicine, as this was the era of Hippocrates. Hippocrates is considered to be the founder of modern medicine and his legacy continues to this day; the oath that doctors take at graduation was written by him, which is why it is called the Hippocratic Oath.

As a medical pioneer, Hippocrates prescribed treatments for injuries, which included friction and rubbing as a form of healing. Within his treatments and prescriptions, Hippocrates promoted overall wellness by encouraging a good diet, exercise, ample sleep, and music. In many ways, his system of healing had more in common with holistic medicine than with conventional medicine.

Massage spreads to Rome (between 200 and 100 BCE)

Roman bathIn Rome, during the first century BCE, Galen, a physician to many emperors, began using massage therapy to treat different types of physical injuries and diseases. Following Hippocrates’ principles, Galen believed in exercise, healthy diet, rest and massage as integral pieces in restoring and maintaining a healthy body.

While the wealthy received massages in their homes by personal physicians, many Romans were treated in public baths where trainers and doctors delivered massages. The recipients would first bathe themselves and then receive a full body massage to stimulate circulation and loosen their joints. Massages typically included oils to benefit the skin.

Highly popular in Roman culture, the public baths eventually earned a reputation as being more about excess and the pursuit of pleasure instead of as an avenue for healing. In the fourth century CE, the Roman Emperor Constantine condemned the public baths for adding to the abuse of sex in Roman culture.

Europe recognizes healing powers of massage (between 1600 and 1900 CE)

Swedish massageBetween 1600 and 1800, numerous physicians and scientists observed and documented the benefits of massage. However, Western techniques made few advances until the 19th century.

In the early 1800s, Swedish physician Per Henrik Ling developed the Swedish Gymnastic Movement System. This system incorporated massage with medical gymnastics and physiology. Techniques included stroking, pressing and squeezing, and striking to manually treat physical issues.

Massage and the wellness boom (20th century until today)

WW 1 healing therapiesThrough the early part of the 20th century, an increasing number of new and rediscovered massage techniques were documented and practised. In particular, massage was used to treat World War I patients who suffered from nerve injury or shell shock.

However, massage remained out of the mainstream as a form of treatment for many years. It was perceived as a luxury reserved for the wealthy. Furthermore, its reputation endured another unsavoury period with the advent of massage parlours where the practice became associated with the sex trade.

Natural HealingIn the latter half of the 20th century, rising interest in natural healing methods revitalised massage. More and more states started to regulate the practice, and industry standards in licensing and education emerged. As a result, massage earned a place as a legitimate and respectable form of alternative and complementary medicine and became recognized in society’s wellness boom – the focus on disease prevention through maintaining wellness.

Today’s massage therapists practise a multitude of techniques originating from ancient methods. From those roots, they remain inspired by a goal cultivated centuries ago – to help others heal their physical and emotional wellbeing and experience a higher quality of life.

Thanks to Acupuncture Massage College, Miami, Florida

Antar Marc

Marc is an artist, coach, lecturer and writer of essays about topics of general interest.

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