The Origins of Massage


We all know what massage is but do you know the origins of massage?  According to a newsletter by Harvard Health, massage is an ancient art dating back to the dawn of civilization.  The name is derived from a Greek work meaning, “to work with the hands, as in kneading dough.”  Back in 400 B.C., Hippocrates is said to have written, “The physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing.”

In the 2400 years since that time, doctors no longer rely on massage to heal their patients and rarely do they refer them to a massage therapist to receive sessions that may aide in their recovery.

Massage includes the manipulation of the skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments by pressing and rubbing.  Various techniques accomplish this in a number of ways.

Swedish massage

  • Involves massage that uses long strokes (effleurage), kneading strokes (petrisage), tapping (tapotement) and vibration. The primary goal of Swedish massage is relaxation.

Deep tissue massage

  • Involves slower, more forceful techniques to reach deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue to help with muscle damage from injuries.

Sports massage

  • Focuses on specific areas of the body used in a particular sport. Sports massage can be broken down into 4 categories:
    • Pre-event: Designed to stimulate, given 15 to 45 minutes before sporting activity
    • Post-event: Helps to normalize the tissues and given within two hours after the sporting activity
    • Restorative: Given during training to help enable further training by injury prevention
    • Rehabilitative: Alleviates pain from injury and helps to restore tissues to normal

Trigger point massage

  • Targets areas of tight muscle fibers that can form in muscles after injury or overuse. These trigger points can cause pain in areas far from the origin of the trigger point and are sometimes difficult diagnose without experience.

Studies of massage have shown that it is beneficial in reducing stress, pain and muscle tension.

Other studies have shown that massage may be helpful in reducing:

  • Anxiety
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Digestive disorders
  • Stress-related insomnia
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Soft tissue injuries or strains
  • Sports injuries
  • TMJ or temporomandibular joint pain

Massage can also provide people with feelings of caring, comfort and connection.  It is not, however, meant to be a replacement of medical care.  If you are undergoing regular medical care for a specific condition, ask your doctor if it is appropriate for your condition.

All benefits aside, there are contra-indications to be aware of when determining whether or not massage is appropriate:


  • Local (not performed over the area in question)
    • Burns or healing wounds
    • Varicose veins
    • Undiagnosed lumps or bumps
    • Pregnancy
    • Bruising, cuts, abrasions
    • Sunburn
    • Undiagnosed pain
    • Inflammation
    • Fractures
  • Total (not performed at all)
    • Fever
    • Contagious diseases (this includes cold and flu)
    • Under the influence of drugs which includes pain prescription medication
    • Neuritis (inflammation of a peripheral nerve)
    • Severe thrombocytopenia (low platelet count poor ability to clot)
  • Medical (permission must be granted by doctor)
    • Cardio-vascular conditions (such as thrombosis, phlebitis, hypertension, heart conditions including pacemakers)
    • Recent operation or acute injury
    • Severe osteoporosis
    • Cancer
    • Nervous or psychotic conditions
    • Epilepsy
    • Diabetes
    • Skin diseases including psoriasis and eczema
    • Bell’s palsy
    • Gynecological infections
    • Bleeding disorder or taking blood-thinning medication

When you are going to receive a massage, you will be asked to fill out a form requesting all pertinent information and what you are expecting from the session.

You will then be brought into a private room and asked to undress.  You may undress to your level of comfort.  But also know that your massage therapist will drape you appropriately.

Unless you are requesting to receive your massage fully clothed, your therapist will use lotion or oil.  If you have allergies to certain types of oil or don’t like certain smells, bring your own and request that the therapist use it during your session.

During the massage, tell your therapist whether he or she is going too light or too deep. Remember, this is YOUR massage.  You should feel totally comfortable and relaxed.


Book Authored by Deidre Ann Johnson

Keep this handy book by your desk while working or in your carry on when travelling for tips to keep you flexible and pain free.