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Massage as we know it today

Massage as we know it today started to emerge in the 18th century, and is often referred to as Swedish massage as much of it comes from the work of Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839). Ling completed some of his study in China, and as a result developed massage techniques he called effleurage, petrissage, and tapotement (aka percussion).

Progress was also being made in England by Dr Matthias Roth, who studied with Ling. Two brothers, Dr George H. Taylor and Dr Charles F. Taylor, introduced Swedish massage techniques to America in 1856. The former studied in Sweden and the latter with Dr Roth, and as a result they set up a practice in New York and invented the first mechanical massage device in 1864. Further developments have been recorded through the work of the Dutch physican Dr Johann Mezgner (1839-1909), who linked the effects and benefits for rehabilitation and treatment of many diseases and disorders. He went on to further develop effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, vibrations, and friction, which still make up the core of all massage treatments taught today.

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Medical professions in all the countries involved began to encourage nurses to train as masseuses, but unfortunately it began to become synonymous with prostitution and massage parlours. Consequently a small group of women in Britain founded the ‘Society of Trained Masseuse’ in 1894, to try an establish massage as a reputable profession with a strict code of practice. WW1 saw the demand for medicinal massage increase, with treatments being developed for mind and body, e.g. shell shock, nerve damage etc. The Society of Trained Masseuse was awarded a Royal Charter for their contribution to the war effort, and became the Chartered Society of Massage and Medicinal Gymnastics. Also around this time Psychoanalysts like Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) used massage to calm and reassure patients. Through the work of one of his students, Austrian physician Wilhelm Reich, a theory emerged that massage could help unblock psychological tension as well as physical tension (a theory that had long been held by Eastern cultures).

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Again around this time reflexology and aromatherapy were being researched by the medical world. Growing knowledge of the nervous system and its role in pain relief confirmed the effects of manual pressure and zone therapy (reflexology). The use of essential oils in the perfumery industry confirmed that they too were found to have an effect on physical and psychological aspects of the body, hence essential oils were introduced as a massage medium developing into aromatherapy as we use it today. However, despite this Western medicine (unlike their Eastern counterparts) made many of its advances through science and technology, and the introduction of electrotherapy and drugs started to replace manual massage as a treatment for diseases and disorders.

Manual massage began to be viewed as a luxury and ceased to be part of medical training, struggling to maintain credibility.

Not until the 1960s did massage begin to regain its place as a therapy that contributed to a person’s health and well-being, when awarding bodies such as City and Guilds and the International Health and Beauty Council set up courses. As people travelled more they found alternatives to Western medicine in the East, which were particularly embraced during the ‘flower power’ era of the 1960s. However, traditional medical acceptance of the re-emergence of therapeutic massage was poor, and some older medics still believe that it has no rightful place within medicine. However, this is a rapidly changing view, with many people now embracing the concept of health being something that can be viewed holistically, looking after body, mind and spirit, and maintaining a healthy balance.

Ancient History

Intuitively we know that the instinctive skill of massage must be as old as humanity itself. However, the earliest evidence has been uncovered in caveman wall drawings and cave paintings, showing the giving and receiving of massage as both a sensual and caring activity.

More concretely we can track the study of massage from as early as 3000 BC to today through both written and inherited practical skills. One of the oldest books is from China, called ‘Con Fou of the Tao-Tse’, which contains a list of medical plants, exercises and massage techniques incorporating pressure points. This formed the basis of acupressure and acupuncture.

Knowledge spread from China to Japan through Buddhist teachings, where the Japanese monks introduced new combinations of pressure points. The Japanese went on to develop Shiatsu (acupuncture without needles).

In India the Hindu book AyurVeda (Life Knowledge) was written in 1700-1800 BC, and describes massage together with exercises as a daily routine and/or treatment. Other cultures such as Native Americans, Polynesians, Filipinos, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans also used massage over the centuries, for beauty, therapy, general well-being, physical fitness, and to aid recovery from illness or injury.

Hippocrates (460-359 BC – The ‘Father’ of Medicine) further developed medicinal massage, including friction, rubbing, and the insight that upward massage is more beneficial through encouraging blood flow towards the heart. Evidence of Hippocrates’ input is seen in the work of Galen, a Greek physician alive from AD129-210. He continued to advocate the use of therapeutic massage and worked with the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius to further the cause. The Romans were famed for their development of gyms incorporating hot/cold baths, steam rooms, massage and exercise rooms.

However, although massage continued to flourish in the East, after the decline of the Roman Empire in AD500 there was a period of nearly 1000 years in the West during which massage was abhorred.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 Roman Baths were adopted by the Muslim Ottoman conquerors and became Islam Baths (Hamaam), of which examples can still be found in Syria and Spain. However, the Renaissance period is seen as the real rebirth of massage, as established by the French barber-surgeon Ambrose Pare (1517-1590). He categorised massage as gentle, medium, or vigorous.

If you're in the Peterborough, Stamford, Oundle, Uppingham or Corby areas why not give youself to a Body massage, Indian head massage or Aromatherapy massage treatment at our Practice.

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The following books were referenced for this section:

An Holistic Guide to Massage by Tina Parsons

See our full range of Holistic Therapy books in the Further Exploration section.

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