The History of the Massage Therapist

by | Sep 9, 2019

Massage Therapy is just one persuasion from a wide array of other very effective and closely related persuasions such as Acupressure, Body Work, Manipulative Therapy, Manual Lymphatic Drainage, Structural Integration, Alternative Medical Systems, Mind-Body Intervention, Biologically Based Therapy, Energy Therapy, Shiatsu, and Tui Na. And all these as a group come under the wide umbrella of alternative medicine and body-based methods. Massage Therapy is a procedure in which various methods are utilized to manipulate soft tissues of the subject’s body such as the muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin, joints, connective tissues as well as the lymphatic vessels and organs of the gastrointestinal system.

The primary goal of Massage Therapy is to affect physical, psychological and functional curative changes by performing manipulative functions which involve moving or stationary pressure, structured or unstructured force to strategic points, vibration, stroking, kneading, and so on.

Massage Therapy is applied manually with the therapist’s hands, fingers, elbows, forearms and feet as the subject is fully clothed in a massage chair or partially to naked but covered with a sheet on a massage table or a mat on the floor.  

Ancient scriptures have attested to the fact that massage therapy dates back into antiquity and it has been a fundamental practice in many different cultures such as the Roman, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Indian. Even Biblical writings from c. 493 BC speak of daily massage with olive oil and myrrh to the wives of Xerxes (Esther, 2:9-12) as part of their daily beauty routine. Hippocrates of Cos, a Greek physician of the fourth century BC who is also considered the “father of medicine” and after whose teachings the famous Hippocratic Oath was named, wrote that “The physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing.”

Advancing to more modern times, Massage Therapy gained its popularity in the United States when presented by two physicians from New York in the 1800s. Their techniques were an adaptation from the Per Henrik Ling Massage Therapy, which was developed in Sweden. With the introduction of new and exciting innovations in medicine during the 1930s and 1940s, the popularity of Massage Therapy waned but was revived again by the athletic community in the 1960s and 1970s.

THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF MASSAGE THERAPY

In an attempt to understand how and why massage therapy is as effective as it seems to be, scientists and medical researchers from around the world have been studying it for decades. Some characteristics of massage therapy have been conclusively resolved with apparent consensus among the learned scholars, while other characteristics remain as inexplicably mysterious as ever. For instance, they all agree that when a certain amount of pressure is applied to soft tissue such as a muscle, some changes occur within the affected muscles. They also all tend to agree that massage therapy promotes relaxation and reduces the stress, which often leads to deterioration or worsening of certain physiological conditions.

Those characteristics of massage therapy which have not yet been explained by conventional science gave rise to several theories.

Note that they are all prefaced with the word “might” to indicate uncertainty as they described possible health benefits of massage therapy:

• Might provide stimulation that may help block pain signals transmitted to the brain, and this is called the “gate control theory” of decreasing or alleviating pain.

• Might promote better health by stimulating the lymphatic system to increase the flow of lymph, which is the secretion that carries disease-fighting cells through the body.

• Might re-route the client’s nervous system away from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic. In doing so, the fight-or-flight reaction of the sympathetic nervous system with its increased heart and breathing rates along with tightened muscles of distress are shunned in favor of the rest-and-digest reaction of the parasympathetic nervous system with its lowered heart rate, slowed breathing and relaxed muscles.

• Might be instrumental in effecting beneficial changes in the body by preventing fibrosis through the process of breaking up scar-like tissue

• Might arouse the body to discharge chemicals such as serotonin or endorphins which are known to give people the feelings of wellbeing.

• Might improve sleep patterns which are essential to pain control and healing processes.

• Might contribute to the overall mental and physiological health by the intimate interaction between the client and the therapist.

The following are specific cases and their reported benefits, whether they are understood or merely observed with bewilderment:

• Students at a New Jersey Medical School who were given massage therapy before an exam displayed less anxiety, lower respiratory rates, a substantial increase in white blood cells, and an enhanced immune system.

• Cancer patients at the James Cancer Hospital and Research Institute in Columbus, Ohio, experienced less pain and decreased anxiety after receiving massage therapies than those who did not get such treatments.

• Studies at the University of South Carolina show that women who recently lost a child were less depressed after Massage Therapy.

• The National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that massage therapy improved weight gain in infants who were premature or those exposed to HIV. They also determined that massage therapy expedites recovery in patients who had abdominal surgery.

• Researchers at the University of the Miami School of Medicine’s Touch Research Institute discovered that massage therapy decreases high blood pressure, relieves migraine headaches, and generally increases alertness and performance in the workforce.

• Many additional studies confirm that massage therapy reduces:

heart rates
lowers blood pressure
increases blood circulation and lymph flow
relaxes stiffened and tense muscles while stimulating weak and inactive muscles to compensate for lack of movement due to an illness or an injury
speeds up the healing