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The historical journey of massage therapy — An ancient form of healing with very real benefits

By Katie Presutti
More and more people are making the choice to add massage therapy to their repertoire for healing and prevention of injuries, stress reduction, and overall wellness. This sacred method of natural healing has been around for thousands of years. While it laid dormant for quite some time, it continues to gain popularity in Western culture as a trusted and safe practice for our well-being. Many civilizations from East to West can be credited with utilizing massage as a form of natural healing, pain management and relief from illness.

The word “massage” comes to us from the Arabic root mass’h, which means to touch, knead or squeeze. According to http://NaturalHealers.com, the origins of massage can be traced back to India. It appears therapeutic practices were passed down from generation to generation verbally. Massage and ayurveda were closely linked and used in disease prevention.

In Egypt, the first written records were discovered in tomb paintings illustrating people kneading each other. We can also thank the Egyptians for creating the very popular technique known as reflexology that is still used today. In reflexology, pressure points are activated in the feet and hands by trained therapists to relieve tension and stress throughout all areas of the body.

China recognized the importance of massage therapy and began documenting the medical benefits in written transcripts. The healing methods of traditional Chinese medicine included massage therapy. Monks can be credited for sharing massage with Japan and it is there where the famous Shiatsu technique was developed.

Shiatsu massage is meant to raise the person’s energy level by stimulating pressure points on the body. When the energy level has been raised, the body begins to heal and the organs naturally come into balance and resist illness and discomfort. Shiatsu has always been performed with thumbs, fingers, and palms, and not with the use of instruments.

We have seen the concept of massage infiltrate its way to our athletes of today. Massage therapy is a daily part of physical routines for most professional athletes. Our Wisconsin-based teams, such as the Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Brewers, have massage therapists on staff at all times.

But the healing benefits of massage were not just for athletes; the doctors of ancient Greece were using massage along with oils and herbs in their medical treatments, and the women of Greece discovered using the aromatic oils for beauty treatments. We can credit the Romans for the origins of the “spa.”

As we credit countries for their early massage practices, we can give recognition to a couple key individuals for their work in healing modalities. Hippocrates (460 to 380 B.C.) has been accepted as the “father of medicine” by many. He created a standard for restoring and maintaining health that is based on exercise, healthy diet, plenty of sleep and massage. Galen (130 to 201 A.D.) wrote extensive medical journals, was a notable physician to many Roman emperors, developed a complete regimen of massage techniques for disease and physical injuries, and is the innovator of what we call sports or orthopedic massage today. We are grateful for Pehr Heinrick Ling, as he brought us the popular Swedish massage. He worked with athletes, particularly gymnasts, and was able to develop a specific massage technique that focused on the soft tissues of the body. According to Integrative Touch and Bodywork, Ling is known as the father of modern massage.

Massage began as a healing practice, and then for an extensive amount of time it went through a cultural shift, making it a luxury and indulgence reserved only for the wealthy. There was then a dark era for the healing practice we know today, and it was given a bad reputation when it became affiliated with massage parlors and associated with sex trade. It is here the term “masseuse” came about and is not used today when referring to those trained in professional massage therapy; instead we know them as massage therapists. Endurance through those times has led to a highly respected method of holistic healing practiced worldwide.

It is an instinctive and natural thought, rubbing something that hurts, and it has evolved and expanded into a science of health and wellness. Many believe massage was the inception to all other forms of hands-on therapy, such as chiropractic care and physical therapy. Today’s massage therapists are equipped with many different techniques and styles that have deep roots in this ancient form of healing.

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