The History of Massage Therapy

The History of Massage Therapy
relaxation massage available in Truro and Richmond Upon Thames

Debbie Slater, owner of Keheren Therapy, recently delivered a talk about the history of massage therapy.

The ladies I presented to found it interesting. I also learnt a lot from researching the subject before the presentation.

It, therefore, seems only natural to share the information with my readers!

The Origins

The word ‘massage’ comes from the Arabic root “mass’h” which literally means to touch, knead or squeeze.

Many believe that massage therapy is the precursor to all other forms of manual therapy; including physical therapy, chiropractic and orthopaedics.

Chinese medicine

history of massage chinaThe oldest written record of massage dates back thousands of years, nearly 4 000 years to be more precise.

The Chinese Medical text Con-Fu of the Toa-Tse was written around 1800 BC detailed the application of massage techniques for therapeutic purpose.

This book was later translated into French.

Toa is to follow the universes natural way and to balance the forces between Ying and yang (the opposites) and the five elements of water, fire, metal, wood and earth.

Archaeologists have found references to massage treatment for illnesses written in jiaguwen, the earliest form of writing in China, dating back to as early as the 16th-11th centuries BC.

In modern Chinese, we know therapeutic massage as Tuina, which literally means pushing and grasping.

However, this term did not occur in Chinese literature until the Ming dynasty of 1368-1644.

Prior to this, the most popular term for therapeutic massage was “anmo” which literally means pressing and rubbing.

Greek Massage and The Romans

Greek and Roman Physicians used massage as one of the principal ways of relieving pain.

Hippocrates of Cos (460 to 380 B.C.) the ‘father of medicine’ wrote in his memoirs:

“The physician must be experienced in many things but assuredly also in rubbing (anatripsis); for things that have the same name have not always the same effects. For rubbing can bind a joint that is too loose and loosen a joint that is too rigid.”

In Greek tradition, Galen (130 -201AD) reveals in his book Hygiene how deeply his feelings were towards massage and his disregard for those who lower the standards of the profession.


The Egyptians made their contribution to massage when they created reflexology in 2500 BC.

Swedish Massage

We know now that Dutch doctor Johann Georg Mezger around 868 invented Swedish massage.

Although some literature credits this to Per Henrik Ling, a general medical practitioner during the 19th century.

Sometimes we document Ling as The Father of Massage.

This is rather controversial as we credit Ling more with the use of stretching or callisthenics rather than the use of massage alone.

Ling believed that vigorous massage could bring about healing by improving the circulation of the blood and lymphatic system.

In 1868 Dr Johann George Mezger passed his doctoral exam with a dissertation on ‘The Treatment of Distorio Pedis with Frictions’ this would go on to serve as the bases for a Swedish massage.

He developed massage techniques still used in Swedish massage today.

These massage techniques are

  • Effleurage,
  • Petrissage,
  • Friction,
  • Tapotement
  • and Vibration.

In addition, Dr Mezger was also a user of medical gymnastics.

The Invention of Deep Tissue Massage

Therese Phimmer (1949) is credited with beginning the evolution of Deep tissue massage therapy after analysing Dr Lings Massage techniques.

Her book, Muscles-Your Invisible Bonds, was used within medical and sports therapy treatments alike. This has led to the evolution of using techniques to rid a person of “knots”.

Massage today

Complementary therapists have adapted Swedish massage to place greater emphasis on the psychological and spiritual aspects of treatment. Perhaps suggesting taking snippets of many aspects of the history of massage.

Often we talk about Modern-day massage in terms of wholeness, calmness or mindfulness whereas as we have seen using traditional massage to loosen stiff joints or relieve aches and pains.

In modern-day medicine, people using frequently the term evidence-based practise.

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence or NICE refer to massage therapy for the treatment of back pain.

Despite this, we have to do more research into the benefits of massage therapy to give the non-believers proof via unbiased reports with high confidence values that massage really is good (or great!) for you.

Organisations such as the Complementary Natural Health Council (CNHC) starting to allow massage therapists to chose to regulate in the practice.

To be a member therapist, must undergo Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and gain qualifications from a recognised Approving body.

With an emphasis on this, I believe that massage therapy can become an essential and beneficial aspect of modern medicine.

In other words, the emphasis in modern society is growing more and more around holistic medicine that is treating a person as a whole.

That is body, mind, spirit and emotions and we can find much documentation surrounding how massage can help some if not all of these.

The invention of Hydrotherm!

hydrotherm systemHydrotherm massage was invented nearly 30 years ago by Massage Therapist John Holman.

Originally a Baker, John found that massage therapy caused the therapists problems with physical aches and pains.

Namely lower back pain and pain in the carpal area.

One day, John was watching a treatment of American Footballer with an Ice pack on the front of his leg.

From that moment the concept of Hydrotherm was born.

Not only did John stop the aches and pains that the therapists experienced. In addition, he found a unique and comfortable massage system used by people all over the world today.

Experience the Hydrotherm effect at Keheren Therapy.

Book online today