Massage therapy has been practiced since approx 4,000 BCE, earliest records of it can be found in India, China, Japan, and Greece. In fact Hippocrates the Father of Medicine often spoke of the medicinal value of massage as a part of not only a healthy lifestyle but also as an important factor in healing.
What is the history of massage?
The use of massage for healing purposes dates back 4,000 years in Chinese medical literature and continues to be an important part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). A contemporary form of massage, known as Swedish massage, was introduced to the United States in the 1850s. By the end of the 19th century, a significant number of American doctors were practicing this manual technique, and the nation’s first massage therapy clinic had opened its doors to the public.
In the early 20th century, the rise of technology and prescription drugs began to overshadow massage therapy. For the next several decades, massage remained dormant, with only a few therapists continuing to practice the “ancient” technique. However, during the 1970s, both the general public and the medical profession began to take notice of alternative medicine and mind-body therapies, including massage therapy.
Are there many types of massage?
There are nearly 100 different massage and body work techniques. Each technique is uniquely designed to achieve a specific goal. The most common types practiced in the United States include:
- Aromatherapy massage: Essential oils from plants are massaged into the skin to enhance the healing and relaxing effects of massage. Essential oils are believed to have a powerful effect on mood by stimulating two structures deep in the brain known to store emotions and memory.
- Craniosacral massage: Gentle pressure is applied to the head and spine to correct imbalances and restore the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in these areas.
- Lymphatic massage: Light, rhythmic strokes are used to improve the flow of lymph (colorless fluid that helps fight infection and disease) throughout the body. One of the most popular forms of lymphatic massage, manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), focuses on draining excess lymph.
- Myofascial release: Gentle pressure and body positioning are used to relax and stretch the muscles, fascia (connective tissue), and related structures. Trained physical therapists and massage therapists use this technique.
- On site/chair massage: On site massage therapists use a portable chair to deliver brief, upper body massages to fully clothed people in offices and other public places.
- Polarity therapy: A form of energy healing, polarity therapy stimulates and balances the flow of energy within the body to enhance health and well being.
- Reflexology: Specialized thumb and finger techniques are applied to the hands and feet. Reflexologists believe that these areas contain “reflex points” or direct connections to specific organs and structure, throughout the body.
- Rolfing: Pressure is applied to the fascia (connective tissue) to stretch it, lengthen it, and make it more flexible. The goal of this technique is to realign the body so that it conserves energy, releases tension, and functions better.
- Shiatsu: Gentle finger and hand pressure are applied to specific points on the body to relieve pain and enhance the flow of energy (known as qi) through the body’s energy pathways (called meridians). Shiatsu is widely used in TCM.
- Sports massage: Often used on professional athletes and other active individuals, sports massage can enhance performance and prevent and treat sports-related injuries.
- Swedish massage: A variety of strokes and pressure techniques are used to enhance the flow of blood to the heart, remove waste products from the tissues, stretch ligaments and tendons, and ease physical and emotional tension.
- Trigger point massage: Pressure is applied to “trigger points” (tender areas where the muscles have been damaged) to alleviate muscle spasms and pain.
- Integrative touch: A gentle form of massage therapy that uses gentle, non-circulatory techniques. It is designed to meet the needs of patients who are hospitalized or in hospice care.
- Compassionate touch: Combines one-on-one focused attention, intentional touch, and sensitive massage with communication to enhance the quality of life for elderly, ill, or dying patients.
How does massage work?
For centuries, human touch has been shown to be emotionally and physically healing. Particular massage techniques may either stimulate or calm the body’s muscles and tissues to create a desired effect. When a practitioner massages soft tissue, electrical signals are transmitted both to the local area and throughout the body. These signals, in combination with the healing properties of touch, help heal damaged muscle, stimulate circulation, clear waste products via the lymphatic system, boost the activity of the immune system, reduce pain and tension, and induce a calming effect. Massage may also enhance well being by stimulating the release of endorphins (natural painkillers and mood elevators) and reducing levels of certain stress hormones.
In our own western tradition, starting with the Greeks, one finds deep roots for the validity of massage therapy in the medical world. Hippocrates of Cos (460 to 380 B.C.), generally accepted as the ‘father of medicine’ and author of the Hippocratic Oath, 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.…
Rubbing can bind and loosen; can make flesh (referring to the ability to tone muscle tissue) and cause parts to waste (soften and relax).
Hard rubbing binds; soft rubbing loosens; much rubbing causes parts to waste; moderate rubbing makes them grow.”
Massage has been an integral part of the healing practices dating back thousands of years.
Massage, exercise, and good nutrition are the building blocks to a healthy body. Massage Therapy is not intended to replace your existing medical care and treatment, it is a part of of the recipe for healthy living.
Yours in Health and Wellness,
Kristeen Smart AKA Kristeen Kish
CAMTC Certified Massage Therapist