Massage is as old as life itself: placing a hand over a painful zone of the body and rubbing or applying firm pressure is a reflex reaction used to relieve pain or tension.
Massage therapy first came into being with somewhat rudimentary methods, but which produced excellent results; over the ages it has developed and has been present in every culture throughout history.
The first written documents mentioning massage date back to over five thousand years ago. The oldest registers referring to the concept and use came from the East, from ancient Mesopotamia, and prove that massage was already practised four thousand years ago. Massage is also described in the sacred books of the Chinese Imperial court, where it was used for therapeutic purposes; and in the Vedas, the scriptures of Hinduism, in which it is linked to the daily obligations of man and also to rituals and therapeutic applications.
In the Western world, the technique of massage was already documented in ancient Egypt, when it was used by priests and empirical doctors for healing purposes and sacred rituals. In Greece, the theme of massage was reflected in many representations that were part of people’s immediate surroundings. Hippocrates (450 BC) was the first to define and establish certain rules concerning manipulation and rubbing; he also referred to the chemical properties of the oils used to treat bodily pain and to facilitate certain physiological actions. The Greeks practised therapeutic and aesthetic massage and, above all, massage for sports, developing a coordinated system of techniques for their athletic events.
Imbued with Greek culture, massage spread progressively among the Persians and the Romans. In the manner of Greek masters Hippocrates and Aristotle, the physician Galen used the technique for relaxing and treating the muscles of the gladiators.
Later on, the conquering Arabs broadened Islamic culture with skills and knowledge from other countries, gathering new ideas which they later perfected. A leading figure was the Muslim physician Avicenna who, following the footsteps of Galen, wrote a treatise on bathing, the benefits and qualities of massage, the healing power of music, sleep and rest.
During the Middle Ages, when scientific and cultural progress stagnated in Europe, the use of massage became completely lost. In that period, the body was ignored, hidden and tormented and any type of manipulation for the purpose of invigorating or strengthening it was considered as a profanation. Practices such as massage thus fell into oblivion.
The 15th century marked the beginning of a new era, the Renaissance, which brought with it a far-reaching renovation of society. Massage was revived and, as in other disciplines, old treatises began to be revised. Figures such as Ambroise Paré, Lord Bacon and Celsius, among many others, gave a new drive to massage; however it was not until the 18th century when Pehr Henrik Ling, gaining inspiration from a Chinese treatise, elaborated the system of Swedish gymnastics and classified the various gymnastic movements, among which he included massage. From the 19th century onwards, the list of prestigious professionals who worked on massage extended to include names such as Mezger, Estradere, Dupuytren, Velpeau, Mitchell and Kellogg, all of whom contributed to the development and recognition of massage as an alternative therapy.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, massage began to be used in a scientific and therapeutic manner. The physiological bases were studied and different methods and techniques were categorised.
In recent years, new mechanised methods have appeared, including which include the use of sophisticated devices.
The different types of massage can be classified into six large groups:
• Classical, Western or Swedish and variations (acting on the muscular plane)
• Specific (Cyriax, Nimmo...)
• Oriental (energy channels)
• Foot massage
• Mechanical (in which other elements substitute the hands of the therapist)
• New tendencies (stress, tension, fatigue...)