What is Massage Therapy?


Massage Therapy is just one general therapy from a wide array of other effective and closely related bodywork systems, such as: Acupressure, Body Work, Manipulative Therapy, Manual Lymphatic Drainage, Structural Integration, Alternative Medical Systems, Mind-Body Intervention, Biologically Based Therapy, Energy TherapyShiatsu and Tui Na.  All of these come under the wide umbrella of alternative medicine and body-based methods.

Massage Therapy, generally speaking, is a group of procedures in which various methods are used to manipulate the soft tissues of the subject’s body, tissues such as the muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin, joints, and connective tissues, not to mention the lymphatic system and organs of the gastrointestinal system.

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

On occasion, mechanical devices are used as tools of the trade, but for the most part, the Massage Therapy is applied manually with the therapist’s hands, fingers, elbows, forearms and feet. The subject is fully clothed in a Massage Chair or partially to totally naked, but covered with a towel, on a Massage Table or on a mat on the floor.

History of Massage Therapy

Ancient scriptures have attested to the fact that massage therapy dates back into antiquity. 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 being applied 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.” (here.)

In more modern times, Massage Therapy gained its popularity in the United States when it was 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.  The popularity of Massage Therapy waned with other new and exciting innovations in medicine during the 1930s and 1940s, but was revived again by the athletic community in the 1960s and 1970s.  Massage Therapy was provided as a central medical service for the first time in the United States during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

Where the Term Comes From

Etymologically speaking, the word “massage” in English comes from a long line of derivatives as follows:  the French word “massage” which means “the friction of kneading,” which comes from the Arabic word “massa” which means “to touch, feel or handle,” which comes from the Latin word “massa” which means “mass or dough.”  The Greek word for “massage” is “anatripsis” and the Latin word is “firctio.”  However, the oldest known origin of the English word “massage” comes from the Biblical Hebrew word “me-sakj” which means “to anoint with oil.”

What we refer to as Massage Therapy today has in the past been merely referred to as Massage.  However, the “therapy” portion of the Massage Therapy came into being only when the illegal prostitution and sexual services in the United States began advertising themselves and their wares as “massage.”  Wanting to distinguish itself, the legitimate massage became Massage Therapy.

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