History of Massage
Massage, the healing power of touch.
Many of us recognize massage as something one does to relax, possibly even a luxury, but much like yoga, massage therapy has been around for centuries. In my experience it is a common misconception that massage is a Buddhist or Indian tradition; in fact, as you will see, it has been around much longer than that.
In its infancy, the methods and practices were passed down through oral history so the actual beginning of massage therapy may be much older than written below.
- 3000 BCE: The practice of massage therapy began
- 2700 BCE: The Chinese documented the medical benefits of massage therapy
- 2500 BCE: The Egyptians are credited with creating reflexology
- 1500 – 500 BCE: Texts are written documenting the principles of Ayurvedic principles in India – Ayurveda meaning “life sciences”.
- 1000 BCE: The Japanese monks begin to practice massage therapy after studying and observing Chinese methods
- 800 – 700 BCE: Massage therapy begins to reach Greece as athletes and philosophers integrate its practices
- 200 – 100 BCE: Massage therapy reaches Rome
- 17th – 19th Century CE: Europe recognizes massage therapy as a practice
- Early 1800’s CE: Western cultures are introduced to Swedish massage, the most commonly known/practiced form of massage in the west. Brought about by a Swedish doctor named Per Henrik Ling and built upon, and modified by, Dutchman Johan Georg Mezger into what we are familiar with today.
- 20th Century – Present day CE: Many healthcare professionals and practices are beginning to incorporate massage into their patient treatment plans.
Note: BCE = before common era, CE = common era
Source for this timeline: naturalhealers.com
Current Views on Massage
According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have shown massage therapy to be effective in the reduction or management of:
- Digestive disorders
- Insomnia related to stress
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Soft tissue strains or injuries
- Sports injuries
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain
Due to the nature of the practice, massage therapy research is difficult to conduct within the parameters of the scientific method.
Most studies are done as a double-blind, randomized test where both doctor and patient are in the dark about whether they are in the control group that receives the placebo or if they are in the test group receiving the treatment being tested. In the case of massage it is not possible to do a double-blind, randomized test, however, one example of a study conducted is summarized below:
Furlan et al. (2008) conducted a systematic review of thirteen existing randomized controlled trials evaluating massage therapy’s effectiveness in the treatment of non-specific low-back pain. The purpose was to provide a rigorous and balanced summary regarding the effectiveness, safety, and costs of massage therapy for low back pain.
They found evidence that massage may be beneficial for patients with subacute and chronic non-specific low-back pain, especially when combined with exercises and education. (https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/massage-therapy/what-does-research-say-about-massage-theraphy)
As is the case with any form of treatment or exercise, however, it is ALWAYS best to consult your primary care physician. If massage therapy is being used as a treatment option and not just as stress relief it is best to inform them of your intentions and ask for their input. There are some patients for which massage therapy may be contraindicated, patients suffering from:
- Bleeding disorders or those patients taking blood-thinning medication
- Burns or healing wounds
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Severe osteoporosis
- Severe thrombocytopenia
Types of Massage
I have found that all types of massage seem to have a few positive attributes in common: they are all non-invasive, they are all very low-risk for the majority of the population, they all increase blood flow and circulation to the muscles of the body, they are all able decrease tension and elevate endorphin levels, the pleasure hormone.
One of the main drawbacks for many people, however, at least in the US, is that massage therapy is rarely covered by insurance.
Below is a list of popular massage therapy techniques
- Swedish – this is the most common and most widely practiced in clinics, spas and gyms. This form of massage uses long, slow strokes which makes it great for balancing energy and relaxation as well as stress reduction.
- Trigger Point or Neuromuscular Therapy – here direct pressure is applied to specific sites where there is muscle pain or discomfort. Applying this pressure to trigger points releases the tension being held there.
- Deep Tissue – This is more focused on muscle knots, or adhesions, in the deeper layers of the muscles. It utilizes slower movements than Swedish massage to help release the muscle fibers.
- Sports – This is ideal for increasing range of motion and flexibility by focusing more on the soft tissue. This can be done before or after a sporting event or practice to aid in recovery.
- Chair – This type of massage is done in a special chair and done fully clothed. It usually only lasts between 10-15 minutes; this is why these chairs can be seen in shopping malls or airports. A quick and easy way to relieve some tension.
- Shiatsu – Localized pressure is again applied here, usually for 2-8 seconds to aid in the flow of energy and to balance the body. It is done using fingers, palms and/or elbows. A lot of back massager cushions and massage chairs usually have this as the main setting.
- Thai – The best description I came across for this form of therapy was passive yoga, meaning the massage therapist moves and manipulates the body to stretch, most usually on the floor.
- Hot-Stone – As the name says, it uses hot stones by placing them on certain points of the body. The heat is to release tension more quickly so the massage therapist can work the muscles or uncomfortable areas sooner. This one does come with an extra warning to check with one’s primary care physician for those with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease or that take blood thinners.
- Reflexology – The fingers are used here to put pressure on reflex points in the hands and feet. Each pressure point is said to be connected to an organ or body part and with pressure, the body can become more in balance.
- Pregnancy or prenatal – This is a wonderful way to specifically aid relaxation in a pregnant woman. It is relatively safe and does not include ingestion of any type of medication which is always preferable when pregnant.
Best Types of Massage for Back Pain
In researching for this article I spoke with a licensed massage therapist friend, she explained that when a client presents with back pain she performs one of the following types of treatment; I have listed their pros and cons for your consideration as well. The number of sessions recommended would depend on the ailment and severity the client is experiencing.
- Swedish Massage
- This type of massage is “universal”, meaning it can be used for overall relaxation
- Can be done with different intensity levels depending on the patient’s needs or preferences
- This type of massage can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours so time may become an issue
- Cost – the longer the massage the more expensive it will become
- Trigger Point Myotherapy
- Targeted pressure to relieve specific sites of pain
- Works well for muscle spasms which can be extremely painful
- Targets muscular and nervous system to get to the underlying cause of pain
- The patient may notice pain or discomfort at the pressure site that may last 1-3 days
- Deep Tissue Massage
- Targeted pressure with a harder level of intensity to get deep into the muscles in pain to release fibers
- Slow and done with special attention to certain areas only
- Pain or discomfort at the site of the deep tissue massage
- Possibility of redness or swelling at the site
- Side effects listed should only last 1-3 days
Communication was also emphasized during the interview.
The communication between client and therapist is a necessary part of treatment. If, at any point, a massage becomes painful or uncomfortable it is up to the client to relay this information to the therapist so they may make adjustments and avoid injury.
It is also the responsibility of the client to inform the massage therapist of any preexisting health conditions that may render treatment ill-advised. These conditions include, but are not limited to, high blood pressure, varicose veins, diabetes or the need to be on anticoagulant medications.
Lastly, it is important that a client receive the best type of treatment, intensity and/or relaxation they desire; to that end, a client is ALWAYS encouraged (if not asked) to state the areas they wish to focus on.
What to Look for When Choosing a Massage Therapist
Just in the United States alone, there are over 300 accredited massage therapy schools. Worldwide it is hard to pinpoint just how many schools there are but just shy of 100 international schools can be found at http://worldmassagefederation.com/schools. Since the demand and, some could say necessity, of massage therapy is on the rise it has become a regulated industry, especially in the US; therefore it is best to find a therapist with the following credentials:
- Has graduated from an accredited or approved program – to find a program if you’re interested in becoming licensed here are a coupe of reputable websites to check out:
- American Massage Therapy Association at amtamassage.org
- National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork at ncbtmb.org
- Has completed 500 hours of training – this is usually the standard number of hours but it may vary by school or location
- Is state licensed or has been certified
- One that belongs to a national organization – these organizations provide standards and codes of ethics
From there it is just a matter of choosing which type of therapy would be best for you and your needs.
One last point that this massage therapist was very adamant and passionate about was: never call her a masseuse, those are practitioners that may not be licensed and may perhaps have a less than reputable practice. She is very proud of her schooling and her job and because of this, she feels it is appropriate that you call anyone licensed and educated in the field a “massage therapist”….when in Rome….never confuse them for Greeks…haha.