Archaeological evidence of massage has been found in many civilisations throughout the world. China, India, Japan, Korea, Egypt, Rome, Greece and Mesopotamia all have a history of using massage; as do the Persians, Hindus and Turks. The earliest written records of massage were discovered in Egypt and China.
A detailed reference to massage can be found in the Kahun Medical Papyrus, dated to Amenhotep III (approx. 1350BC). Because massage was such an ordinary craft to the Ancient Egyptians very little was written about it, but many tomb paintings depict individuals being kneaded by others. The Tomb of Akmanthor (Tomb of the Physician) shows two men having massage on their hands and feet.
The earliest known Chinese physician to use massage in medical practice was Bian Que in 700BC. In 722-481BC the Chinese medical text Huandgdi Neijing was composed and massage is referred to in thirty of the chapters. It specifies various techniques and how they should be used for specific disease, ailment and injury. Known as The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon the text makes reference to knowledge from the time of the Yellow Emperor (approx. 2700BC).
Massage in Indian culture began at around 3000BC, possibly earlier. Sanskrit records certainly indicate that massage was practised long before the beginning of recorded history. The traditional Indian holistic medical system known as Ayurveda easily incorporated massage into it. The Charaka Samhita is the oldest of three ancient Ayurvedic texts on medicine, and in Chakara Vol I, Section XV it states that physicians should be “…competent to cook food, skilled in bathing and washing the patient, rubbing and massaging the limbs….”.
Hippocrates, a Greek Physician often called The Father of Medicine had a high regard for massage and in 406BC stated that physicians should be experienced in “rubbing”. He said “rubbing can bind a joint that is loose, and loosen a joint that is too rigid”. He encouraged massage strokes to move towards the heart, with the belief that this would aid the circulatory system, and therefore aid the process of healing. He was a firm believer that disease came from natural causes and that the body could heal itself, with the healing process encouraged by natural treatments such as massage. This was to be combined with clean air, good diet, rest, and exercise. He developed four principle guidelines for massage: vigorous massage constricts and firms up the body, gentle massage relaxes the body, a lot of massage thins and lightens the body, and moderate massage thickens the body and increases flesh.
Massage therapy was introduced to Rome by Galen between 200 and 100BC. A physician to the School of Gladiators at Pergamos, he ordered the bodies of combatants to be rubbed until red as preparation for exercise and combat, and as a result it was used by athletes in both Ancient Greece and Rome for keeping their bodies in good condition before competitions. Galen was a physician to many emperors and used massage therapy to treat all sorts of ailments and disease. He supported the principles of Hippocrates, and alongside exercise, good diet and sleep he believed massage was essential to maintain health and well-being for body and mind, believing the two inextricably linked. Many Romans received massage not only at home but also from personal physicians at baths and spas.
Greek physician Asclepaides (124-40BC) was a master of massage and flourished in Rome. He attempted to build a new theory of disease based on the flow of atoms through pores in the body. He wanted to restore harmony in the body by using his natural treatments alongside diet, exercise and bathing. His preferred therapies were hydrotherapy, exercise and massage, in that order.
Aulus Cornelius Celsius, a Roman physician, medical historian and encyclopaedist found that “chronic pains in the head are relieved by rubbing the head itself”. He wrote De Medicina, which comprised of eight textbooks on health, some of which contained information on massage. He was a follower of the humoral theories of Hippocrates and a great believer in the efficacy of massage. He elaborated on Hippocrates’ famous four principles on massage, and added further guidelines evolving it.
As well as the Egyptians, the Persians used massage for both body aesthetics and therapeutic purposes. Medical knowledge made its way from Rome to Persia in the Middle Ages through trade routes. Many of Galen’s manuscripts were collected and translated by the scholar Hunayn Ibn Ishaq in the 9th Century, who was born in Iraq and was one of the most productive translators of Greek medical texts throughout the Islamic world.
One of the greatest Persian medics and thinkers of the Islamic Golden Age was Avicenna (980-1037AD), known also as Ibn Sina. His comprehensive collection of unorganised Greco-Roman medical literature (translated into Arabic), were augmented by notes from his own experiences and observations. He excelled in the assessment of conditions and endorsed massage for pain relief. Avicenna’s most famous books The Book of Healing and The Canon of Medicine became standard medical text at many medieval universities.
An early record of massage in Western Europe came from Ambroise Pare (1510-1580) who wrote about it in one of his publications, but was widely ridiculed. Between 1600 and 1800 physicians and scientists started to study and document the benefits of massage more seriously once again, and popularity picked up. In 1780 the French Military physician Clement Joseph Tissot was better received than Ambroise Pare with the more successful Gymnastique Medicinale et Chirurgicale, which covered occupational therapy as well as massage.
In the 1800s the Swedish physician Per Henrik Ling developed the Swedish Gymnastic Movement System which incorporated ‘medical gymnastics’ with massage. Ling was the great-great-grandson of the famous Swedish scientist Olof Rudbeck, who discovered the human Lymphatic System. However, Ling is wrongly accredited the title of Father of Massage; that title actually goes to Johann Mezger (1839-1909) from Holland who started using the French terms effleurage, petrissage and tapotement (also known as Percussion) to describe the basic stokes. It was Mezger who brought medical massage to the attention of the modern scientific community, and linked the benefits and effects of massage for rehabilitation and treatment of many disease and disorders.
In Britain, in 1856 Mathias Roth and English physician taught Charles Fayette Taylor and George Henry Taylor the essentials of massage therapy, which they then took to the US. In 1894-5 a Society of Trained Massueses was formed to increase the standard of training, and in 1899 Sir William Bennet inaugurated a massage department at George’s Hospital in London. In 1895 Sigmund Freud also used massage to beat hysteria as he believed that what we did not (or would not) confront would be buried in the body in the unconscious mind.
Reaching American shores Dr John Harvey Kellog (1852-1943) was the founder of the famous holistic Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, and was an advocate of good diet (in particular vegetarianism) and exercise alongside hydrotherapy and massage. In 1885 he wrote The Art of Massage and aimed to eliminate unnecessary techniques and develop the methods most capable of serving good and prompt results. He drew a lot of inspiration from Asclepaides’ teachings and noted that Asclepaides eventually renounced all medications in favour of manipulation and massage. Kellog spent many years researching and documenting his work scientifically. He realised that at this time there were very few skilled people practising massage and took it upon himself to travel to Germany, Sweden and France to learn everything he could about massage. He believed that a practical study of anatomy was essential in understanding massage and to apply it skilfully. He thought it important that students and massage therapists should understand the nervous system especially. He granted legitimacy to the practice and science of massage therapy, and tirelessly promoted it.