History & Background

egyptian massage history ebers papyrusMassage Therapy can be defined as the manipulation of soft body tissues (muscle, connective tissue, tendons and ligaments) to enhance a person’s health and well-being. We’ve found over the years that massage therapy is more than just a definition…and there are additional viable definitions.

Since prehistoric times¹, massage therapy has been practiced by humans in one form or another, one technique or another – across cultures.  It is only as of late that massage therapy has become the finely-tuned, well-honed profession that it is…and is still becoming.

As a profession, massage therapy has developed considerably: from the ever-evolving definition of massage therapy, as seen in a state-by-state definition and implementation of that expectation for what massage therapy is…to the pioneering efforts of the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge Project – a past-to-now encapsulation of what massage has been and is – to the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education organization – charged with determining the future of the massage therapy profession through development of best-practice educational methods and discipline-specific responsibilities to curriculum and agenda.

There are organizations that maintain and move forward the idea of massage therapy – with support from its certificants and members, respectively the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork and the professional associations the American Massage Therapy Association and the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, client/patient education and relationship & business development and practice are top priorities.  Fulfilling the mission of bringing cutting-edge, peer-reviewed and critically-developed research to the field, the Massage Therapy Foundation publishes the only professional journal for the massage therapy field (the International Journal for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork) and is a clearinghouse for massage therapy research.

International influence has created, in the United States, many additional ‘modalities’ – or ‘techniques’ – within the discipline of massage therapy that augment the basic definition of ‘manipulation of soft body tissues…’  Considered massage therapy and bodywork modalities, Swedish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Australian, East Indian, Mayan, British, Austrian, Canadian, and Filipino influences have shaped the profession, practitioners, and the receiving client of massage therapy.



Massage Therapy features a quality of touch that is facilitative to healing the body, mind, and spirit.  Massage can and is utilized with this trifecta in mind in ways like these:

  • medical rehabilitation
  • pain management technique
  • skeletal structure management
  • suppression of symptoms and stress triggers for known medical conditions
  • sports applications (injury recovery and performance enhancement)
  • psychological treatment augmentation
  • addiction therapy
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Many massage clients also use massage therapy to revitalize, rejuvenate, and just…relax their minds and bodies from everyday stresses

LMT performing a stretch in a massage chairMassage is used in clinics, offices, spas, hospitals, convention centers, hotels, homes…indoors, outdoors, on rooftops and in basements, in private and public settings.

The vehicles for therapeutic massage are best seen in the techniques and modalities that are used, generally in a spa setting, specifically in a medical setting, or generally in the nature of a massage practitioner’s eclectic blend during any given massage session, usually designed to serve the needs of the client or patient during that particular session.

It is the profession of the massage therapist to be proficient in the use of one (typically, in the U.S.: Swedish massage) or more modalities or techniques used to improve health and increase a sense of well-being.  Some typical modalities that massage therapists generally practice are:

  • Active Isolated Stretching
  • Hellerwork®
  • Hot Stone Massage
  • Myofascial Release
  • Neuromuscular Therapy
  • Seated Massage
  • [Russian] Sports Massage
  • Swedish Massage
  • Thai Massage
  • Trager® Approach
  • Trigger Point Therapy

Specialty techniques found and that are becoming staples for specific populations of clients and patients that have more specialized outcomes are:

  • Breast Massage
  • Craniosacral Therapy
  • Healing Touch
  • Lypossage®
  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage
  • Maya Abdominal Massage
  • Oncology Massage
  • Orthopedic Massage
  • Prenatal/Pregnancy Massage
  • Rolfing® Structural Integration
  • Watsu

An exhaustive list of modalities and techniques used in massage therapy can be found here and even here.



What do all the influences, history, categorization of modalities, and variety of venues in which massage therapy can and do exist have in common?

  • Relief.

romanmassagehistoryIn some ways and over the centuries, massage is used for recuperation, revitalization, regeneration, as the Romans did.

Relief can come when massage therapy provides results that:

  • improve blood pressure & flow
  • increase comfortable range of motion
  • reduce presence of inflammatory fallout from ‘fight’ and ‘flight’ events or conditioning in biological tissues
  • increase sense of well-being

In other ways, massage has become a useful tool for integrating into treatment of modern medical conditions for which symptoms may be addressed and to some degree resolved and side effects of traditional medical treatment may be mitigated. Some examples include²:

  • addiction
  • anxiety
  • cancer
  • chronic back pain associated with skeletal, nerve, and muscular conditions
  • fibromyalgia syndrome
  • depression
  • palliative care and hospice
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • neonatal & newborns
  • tension headaches

From informal intake & exit interviews to formalized “before and after [treatment]” medical documentation, client-centered Pain Level surveys or charts (usually, on a visual scale of 1-10) are used to gauge the degree of ‘relief’ that has been attained using massage therapy.

There is more massage therapy research developing, being done and cataloged in databases like PubMed and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine in smaller and medium-sized populations, that further foundationalizes the current purposes for medical-type massage therapy practice and also supports the mind/spirit and mind/body effects that massage therapy has on its clients.

A positive quality of touch coupled with meaningful projected outcomes are the vehicle for what is perceived as “better health through massage”.


massage history EgyptianReferences:

¹ Calvert, R.N. “The History of Massage: an Illustrated Survey from Around the World”, Healing Arts Press, 2002.

² derived from the American Massage Therapy Association’s Position Statements (2006- ), found at (last accessed 22Sep2015)



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