Tranquil Knights Massage Therapy. Tranquil Knights.
The History of Massage

This is a bit of a long topic but recently I have had people asking whether massage and the benefits it can bring are new, the short answer being no. We are now perhaps understanding the scientific and medical benefits more fully with studies into the benefits and our better understanding of health generally but massage seems to have been used for as long as records can show and has an interesting history which I have summarised below.

The History of Massage

Massage has been used for healing throughout recorded history. And no doubt before that. There is a natural instinct to rub a sore spot or ache to make it better, and cultures all over the world have built upon this to develop varied styles of massage. Massage is so ancient that the derivation of the word is uncertain – it may have come from the ancient Greek word “massin” (to knead), or the Arabic “mass” or the Hebrew “mashesh” (to press).

The earliest written reference to massage is in the “Nei Ching”, the Yellow Emperor’s Book of Medicine (written about 2700 BC in china), which describes many massage techniques and their use. Indian texts on Ayurvedi/>c Medicine from about 1800 BC also describe massage. There are many references in the Old Testament of the Bible to the practice of people being “anointed with oil”, particularly after a long journey. From about 500 BC, there are references to massage in medical texts from Egypt, Persia and Japan.

In Eastern systems of massage, the emphasis is on the idea of balancing energy in the body. Acupressure massage developed in China, based on the acupuncture energy meridians and points. It is often used in combination with other traditional systems such as “Anmo” (pressing and rubbing) and “Tuina” (pushing and pulling). In Japan “Amma” massage of pressing, rubbing, wringing and stretches, was traditionally practised by blind practitioners. Shiatsu combines this with pressure techniques on acupuncture points. Thai massage also combines pressure, rubbing and stretches with techniques that work on the energy lines of the body.

In addition to its use by skilled professionals, massage has been used within families throughout Asia and Africa, particularly by mothers massaging babies, and head massage is an automatic part of a visit to the barber or hairdresser throughout much of North Africa and Asia. Massage also developed independently in other parts of the world. Many of the early European visitors to Pacific islands described the use of massage (such as the Hawaiian “Lomilomi”); Captain James Cook, on his third Pacific voyage in the late eighteenth century, had massage (“romee”) in Tahiti to relieve sciatic pain.

In the West, massage has often been used in tandem with exercise, quite commonly as a branch of medicine, and has therefore been influenced by developments in the knowledge of anatomy and physiology. In the fifth century BC, Hippocrates, the “father of medicine” preached the benefits of massage saying “the physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing”. By then Gymnasia were established in many Greek cities, and the anointing of athletes with oils and powders was a common practice in the popular Games. In earlier times, Homer described in “The Odyssey” (about 1000 BC) how the war weary heroes were rested and replenished by the use of massage.

Thus two uses of massage – as a method of relieving stiffness, soreness and tightness in muscles, and as a treatment for particular problems – were well established in classical Greece, and were further developed in Roman times. The Roman physician Celsus (25 BC – 50 AD) wrote that “chronic pains in the head are relieved by rubbing the head itself” and that “a p />aralysed limb is strengthened by rubbing”. Julius Caesar was “pinched” daily to relieve neuralgia. Galen, a Roman physician (AD 131-20l) promoted its use in the preparation of gladiators for combat and in the treatment of injuries.

Following the end of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, the Arabs sustained and continued to develop the knowledge and teachings of the classical world. Avicenna, a tenth century philosopher and physician, wrote that the object of massage was “to disperse the effete matters found in the muscles and not expelled by exercise”. The Arabs also carried on the tradition of massage being done at the Public Baths – which continues to the present day in the “Hammams”, the traditional Baths which operate in North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean (e.g. Turkish Baths) and across into Pakistan and neighbouring parts of Asia.

Classical medical knowledge re-entered Europe from the Arab world during the Renaissance (approximately 1450 – 1600), firstly in the new commercial centres in Italy where medical schools were established, and then spreading to other European cities of rising prosperity. One of the first books from the Gutenberg press was “De Medicina” by the Roman Celsus (25 BC – 50 AD), which emphasised the importance of rubbing, exercise and anointing.

During the sixteenth century, the French doctor Ambroise Pare (1517-1590), one of the founders of modern surgery, used massage, particularly friction massage, in the treatment of stiff and injured joints. His ideas were passed on to other French and German physicians. However massage began to have a less happy relationship with mainstream medicine, as the latter developed further away from being a primarily hands-on skill.

“Swedish Massage”, which forms the basis for European styles of massage, is so called because it was first codified (from existing techniques) as one component of a system of gymnastics by a Swede – Pehr Henrik Ling (1776-1839). From the early nineteenth century, when he began teaching in Stockholm, his massage system began to be practised on its own, and spread throughout Europe.

Just prior to Ling’s death, one of his pupils established a clinic in St Petersburg; these techniques form the basis of Russian Medical Massage, which is widespread in the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe. In the 1840’s, Dr Mathias Roth, another student of Ling, introduced it to Britain, and wrote the first book in English on Swedish Movements and Massage in 1850. Two of his students, the American brothers Charles Taylor and George R Taylor MD, established it in the US in 1856 and, over the next thirty years, published extensively both about Ling’s system and their own work with it. By the 1880’s, there was a growing popularity for massage throughout Europe and North America, and considerable literature on the subject.

Queen Victoria had successful treatments for rheumatic pains, which gave considerable publicity and prestige to the Swedish Massage Cure. The first formal organisation of massage practitioners in this country (The Society of Trained Masseuses) was formed in 1894, by women with nursing backgrounds. They continued to practice massage in medical settings, becoming the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy in 1943, with state registration in 1966, from which time they have, in fact, used massage less and less in their work (although the growing popularity of massage outside the medical setting has led to a renewed interest by a section of the physiotherapy profession).

Sports massage has developed into a well-established and highly specialised field, covering pre and post event massages, and training to deal with sports injuries. Massage continued meantime in areas in which it was taught and applied very much as a routine – the gym/sauna “rubdown” and in the growing field of beauty therapy (as well as in “massage parlours”, an unfortunate aspect of the lack of recognised national standards and registration of massage practitioners).

In recent decades, many interwoven factors have contributed to a growing public interest in massage – the fashion for fitness (in part, through the need to balance sedentary working lives); growing awareness of stress as a health/illness factor; a desire to receive personal treatment where appropriate (rather than be plugged into a machine; an interest in health maintenance that has seen such a growth in “complementary therapies” (the re-emergence of traditional Western and Eastern approaches, the increasing availability of approaches developed in other parts of the shrinking “global village”, and the consequent development of “cross fertilised” hybrids); and the influence of physically based personal development disciplines (ranging from the purely physical to the spiritual – such as Yoga, Tai Chi and Eastern Martial Arts).

These have served not only to bring massage (of all sorts) into mainstream awareness; but have expanded the scope for massage to be seen as a meeting point of these and many other disciplines. In recent years, people have turned to massage not just for general physical relaxation and to release the muscle tension after a “workout”, but also for its relevance to stress management as an adjunct to or even an essential part of counselling, psychotherapy, and personal/professional development; as “touch communication” to enhance partner, family or social relationships; and as an aid to comfort people in ill health, and nurture and replenish them in recovery. One of the important avenues of acceptance of massage has been in hospices, where the quality of care is important.

Massage training has developed which is geared towards the development of a widely skilled and flexible practitioner, who can adapt to a clientele in varied states of health and physical fitness, with a range of builds and lifestyles, and needing different sorts of treatments depending on the reasons for their tension and the events occurring in their lives which need to be taken into account.

Well done to anyone who made it to the end – a bit of a read but interesting if it’s a topic you want to know more about.

As always I love to hear your comments and thoughts so do get in touch if you have anything to add or to ask 🙂

See you all soon,

Sam x

January 20th, 2018