The Origins and History of Massage

Woman relaxing during massage with candles and massage oil next to her

Today massage stands as a highly respected holistic healing method practiced across the world and Massage Therapists practice 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 well-being and experience a higher quality of life. Here’s how massage has evolved into the relaxing and therapeutic practice it is today.

Spa candles and diffuser with towel rolled up beside next to candles

The history of massage dates back thousands of years to ancient cultures that believed in it’s medical benefits. The first written records of massage therapy are found in China and Egypt. The Chinese began using Massage Therapy along with exercise and martial arts as an effective way towards achieving complete health. Egyptian tomb paintings show that Massage Therapy was also a part of their medical tradition. Their studies and traditions greatly influenced other cultures such as the Greeks and Romans. The Greeks, in 300 BC, used exercise as well as massage as part of their daily life. The Greek soldiers were given massages on a regular basis to help ease fatigue and pain. They used it while they trained and also before and after tournaments. Hippocrates, the father of Medicine, claimed that he could increase muscle tone and improve joint function with massage. Hippocrates considered the entire body a single organism, believing that surgery should be used only as a last resort and was among the first to regard the entire body as a whole, introducing the Holistic approach, believing the body, mind and spirit are all connected to overall health.

Woman having deep tissue massage on shoulders and back with bowel of herbs and crystals next to her

It was from this early massage therapy history that the Swedish doctor, gymnast and educator Per Henrik Ling developed a method of movement known as the “Swedish Movement System.”. The Swedish massage approach was scientific and holistic, two principles that remain deeply ingrained in the field today. Per Henrik Ling insisted that movement and manipulation prescriptions be based on anatomy and physiology and be proven by clinical trial and measurement. He also believed, like Hippocrates, in the unity of the person—body, mind, and spirit—and that movement profoundly affects the whole person in maintaining or restoring health. This is regarded as the foundation for Swedish massage most commonly used in the West today. Massage is documented to have been used to treat Julius Caesar who suffered from epilepsy and was used to treat World War I patients who suffered from nerve injury or shell shock.

spa candles and flower with jar of massage cream and apothecary jar of salt

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 until later in the 20th century, which brought a rising interest in the natural healing methods that massage and other complementary therapies could offer, earning massage, amongst others, a legitimate and respected form of alternative treatment. 

mature lady having head massage to alleviate headaches

Massage in Modern Day

Today massage is no longer exclusive to smart spas and beauty salons and has seen significant advancement over the last 60 years, as the general population has become increasingly unhealthy and stressed. Massage Therapy, amongst other complementary therapies, is now being recognised as an integral part of the solution to maintain both physical and mental health and wellbeing. Over 100 hospitals and 200 health services around Britain offer 'touch therapy' such as massage, to patients alongside conventional medicine and is becoming more commonplace in intensive care units and cancer wards as well as delivery rooms and psychiatric hospitals.