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History of Massage

Massage is a skill that has been passed down through the centuries for thousands of years. Detailed below are certain events in history that helped shape the ‘Massage’ we know today.


In China over 5,000 years ago archaeologists established that Asiatic men and women had used perfumed oils on their bodies and hair.


Ancient civilisations in Persia, Japan and Egypt practised massage for cosmetic purposes. They found therapeutic effects when they rubbed oils and perfumes into the skin. The body was ‘anointed’ with oil. Oils had many uses, such as making the body smell pleasant, as offerings to the Gods, and used to embalm the dead.


The Cretans in 1700 BC were great believers in personal hygiene and aesthetic beauty. They oiled their bodies when they took their daily baths.

History of Massage by Nicholas Mulryan

The Romans when ruled by the Etruscans had an advanced system of massage. Romans found mental and physical benefits from exercising, bathing and sunbathing. Baths were taken in four stages:


  1. Gradual warming up, mildly sweating in heated waters and/or steam.

  2. Much hotter temperature – profuse sweating.

  3. Cooling down process of bathing in tepid water.

  4. Plunging into icy water.


During all this time the slaves were expected to rub down their masters. As well as manual massage, small brushes were used. These were made of ivory or bone and metals such as silver, copper or iron were used for a more stimulating effect. Loofahs were used instead of small brushes.


500 BC Greek historian Herodotus performed exercises and massage in the treatment of disease. Principles about techniques were founded. Massage movements were directed away from the heart. The pressure varied during the treatment, starting gentle then becoming deeper and quicker. Greasy mixtures were used. All the large cities in Greece set up gymnastic centres. These were for students and philosophers who could meet and attend lectures whilst bathing and exercising.


Hippocrates (father of medicine) (380 BC) used massage for treatment of injuries and disease. He found it to be more beneficial when rubbing towards the heart (the circulatory system was not understood then). He discovered hard rubbing binds, soft rubbing loosens, much rubbing causes parts to waste and moderate rubbing makes them grow. He advocated gentle and smooth rate and rhythm. These are the physiological effects of massage accepted today. He also advised women to sing at the top of their voices to improve their bust!


Galen (130-200 AD), a Doctor during the Roman era, discovered arteries were filled with blood and not air. He treated injuries and diseases with massage. He varied the direction of massage. Roman gladiators were oiled and massaged until glowing and supple before commencing battle. Massage by this time was also being described as pummelling, squeezing and pinching. Pinching was used all over the body to relieve neuralgia. Public baths by this time were now more common place.


Romans in England in the 1st Century AD lived in towns where the waters were considered to contain special minerals and salts for healthy living e.g. Harrogate, Buxton, Bath, Leamington Spa, etc. Little is known about massage or beauty again until the early middle ages.


1100 AD an Italian woman doctor advised those pre-occupied with slimming and beauty to bathe in the sea and use deodorants made of herbs. Her remedy for losing weight was to spread a mixture of cow dung and medicinal herbs all over the body, then to spend long periods of time in a small room sweating profusely, or alternatively hot sand baths produced the same effect.  

During the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries new words were used as pressure and kneading manipulations. In the 17th Century the first Beauty Salon was opened in New Bond Street, London. Women attended believing that the creams and oils would work miracles. These were very expensive and eventually the lady in charge was imprisoned for fraudulent claims. Massage for beauty then became viewed suspicious.


Professor Peter Henry Ling

At the end of the 18th Century a revival in massage began. Professor Peter Henry Ling of Sweden (1776-1839) made the most dramatic contribution to massage and remedial exercise. His influence spread to Europe and America. He understood the necessity for physiology before applying massage and exercise. He emphasised that only normal conditions should be treated and the abnormal be left to the doctor. He founded the Swedish system of massage still used today from his studies and established the famous school in Stockholm. He introduced new terminology, effleurage, petrissage, vibration and friction, as well as rolling, tapotment (cupping) and kneading. Until the end of the 19thCentury massage was not accepted as an orthodox method of treatment. Training was inadequate and poor and those women who did engage in massage were generally ill repute.


Dr Johan Georg Mezger

Arguably other people suggest that Dr Johan Georg Mezger of Holland (1839-1901) helped to establish massage as a reputable means of treatment. He may have been the true developer of the massage techniques mentioned above (effleurage, petrissage, vibration and friction, as well as rolling, tapotment (cupping) and kneading).


In 1894 a group of women joined together to form the Society of Trained Masseuses to try to raise the standards and reputation. Rules and regulations were set for training. Exams were set and the society flourished.


In 1900 it was licensed by the board of trade and called the incorporated ‘Society of Trained Masseuses. During 1914-1918 membership increased.


In 1920 it amalgamated with Institute of Massage and Remedial Exercise. A Royal Charter was granted and it became known as the Chartered Society of Massage and Medical Gymnastics. The title was changed again in 1943 to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. It became state registered in 1964.


In June 1966 the CGLI set up an exploratory committee to see what possibilities there were for further education and training for individuals wishing to study Beauty Therapy, and to establish a nationally recognised course.


In September 1968 the first full-time courses were offered. In May 1970 the first City and Guilds exams were held.


Today in the UK and around the world there are many associations/organisations and disciplines in ‘Massage Therapy’ which are suggested to be the foremost aspirational and Professional Association for Massage Therapy. Many of these associations/organisations provide advice and guidance to ‘The Massage Therapist’ and advisory groups to help promote the highest standards in the profession.

Tracey Chuwen

I was looking for an experienced massage therapist and was recommended to see Nick due to his professionalism and clinical knowledge by a Stockport college therapy lecturer.


Nick used aromatherapy oils as a medium and explained the benefits of each essential oil for my ailments involving me throughout the decision process.


Following the treatment I felt like I had just worked out in a gym! I also felt totally re-energised Nick you unblocked everything I needed to empty my bladder afterwards!


Well well well I can honestly say that was the best massage I have ever had! Nick is a natural healer spread the word...

Thanks Nick

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