A Brief History of Massage


Massa Latin "That which forms a lump"
Massein Greek "To knead"
Masseur French "To rub"
Mas'h' Arabic "To press softly"
Mass Arabic "To touch or feel"


Massage is an ancient art form as old as man himself. The laying on of hands in firm but gentle strokes was found to be soothing and comforting. It is a natural instinct for a mother to soothe her child with comforting strokes.

References to massage have been found in ancient documents as far back as 5000bc in China. Other early civilisations where references to massage have been found include the Japanese, Egyptians, Greek, Roman and Indian cultures.

  • The Chinese call their technique "Amma". This worked on applying pressure on specific pressure points around the body.

  • The Japanese use a similar technique, and that has developed into what is known today as Shiatsu.

  • In India, The Priests and doctors recorded their use of massage in Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurvedic massage is still used today and has become very popular in The West.

  • Massage was very important to both the Greeks and the Romans. Many historical figures, including Herodicus, teacher to Hippocrates have written about the importance of massage to maintain the health and fitness of the body. Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, wrote in 380bc;

    "A physician must be experienced in many things but assuredly also in rubbing - for things that have the same name have not always the same effect, for rubbing can bind a joint, that is too loose, and loosen a joint that is too tight, rubbing can bind and loosen; can make flesh or cause parts to waste; hard rubbing binds soft rubbing loosens. Much rubbing causes parts to waste, moderate rubbing causes them to grow."


Today's modern massage is the result of the development of the work of Per Henrik Ling (1776 - 1839). Ling was a swedish physiologist and fencing master. He travelled to China and studied their culture and massage techniques. On his return to Sweden, Ling developed his own techniques and taught them to his students. These massage techinques were employed by both physicians and non-medical students. In 1813, the Swedish government established the Royal Swedish Central Institute of Gymnastics. Ling was named president and in 1838 the institute opened in London.

In 1884 The Society of Trained Masseuses was founded. This later became the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. Massage was used during both world wars for the treatment of nerve injury and rehabilitation.