Thursday, June 11, 2009

Historical, cultural and philosohical approaches to massage

The following is about historical and cultural development of massage, comparing development of massage in eastern and western traditions, the role of key individuals in the history of western massage, The massage scandals of the 1800s and the impact on the massage industry. Compares Maori massage with western massage, covers the development of professional massage in New Zealand and contemporary massage today as well as how body, body-mind and body-mind-spirit relate to the contexts discussed.

Massage in the eastern and western traditions developed over thousands of years. What appears to be touch was found in cave paintings from prehistoric times that date back to 15000 BC (Salvo 2007). Traditional massage relates back to the village Sharman, the healer of the village, who used herbal remedies, magic rituals, prayer and massage. Further development depended on the culture which impacted on techniques used.

Records reveal massage practise in China dates back to 3000 BC. Traditional Chinese medicine
included massage and was known as TuiNa (East West Healing Arts Institute Inc, 2008). Their knowledge of massage and acupuncture developed into a style called Amma. Massage found its way into Japan around 6th century AD and was named Shiatsu. It moved into India around 1800 BC and became part of the Hindu tradition and named Ayurveda.
Eastern massage is energy based. Energy flows through the body along pathways called meridians. It has such names as Ki, Chi in Chinese and Ti or Ki in Hawaiian. Also called vital life force or the universal life force. Treatments are holistic incorporating mind, body and spirit.

Western massage developed around seventh and sixth centuries BC. This goes back to the roots of western medicine in Greece when health and medicine began to take shape. In the Middle ages when the Roman Empire collapsed there was a period of decline in western medicine until the Renaissance when foundations of human anatomy were established. From the sixteenth, seventh and eighteenth century massage re-established itself for health maintenance and treatment.
Western massage focuses on the structure of the musculoskeletal system with its two functions movement and support and being physiology based. Mainly used is Swedish massage with relaxation and deep tissue techniques.

Key individuals that have played a role in the development of massage in the western tradition are:
Hippocrates of Cos (460 - 377 BC) Accepted as the father of Western medicine (Integrative touch and body work, 2005). Well known advocate of massage, wrote about friction for the treatment of ailments. Focus was on the patient and believed that the healer should take care to avoid causing any additional harm.

Galen of Pergamon (130 -201 AD) A Roman physician who followed Hippocratic medicine. Considered one of the greatest medical historians and physicians of antiquity. Related anatomy and physiology, was the original innovator of Sports Massage or Orthopaedic Massage(Integrative touch and body work, 2005).

Pehr Hendrik Ling (1776 – 1839) A Swedish physiologist and gymnastics instructor. His approach was to apply gymnastics to treat disease and injury using active, passive and duplicated movements and massage. Regarded as the father of Swedish massage.

Johann Metzger (1839 - 1909) A physician, Success was getting the medical profession to recognise massage and it becoming an integral part of physical therapy. Introduced terminology of effleurage, petrissage, tapotement.

John Harvey Kellogg (1952 - 1943) A physician and health food pioneer. Used massage and hydrotherapy and wrote numerous books on massage. Devoted his life to Battle Creek Sanitarium which was the emergence of the health spa.

Emil Vodder (1896 - 1986) Pioneered lymphology using careful hand movements to stretch and twist the skin to promote lymph movement. Today this is called manual lymphatic drainage (Wikipedia, 2008).

James Cyriax (1904 - 1985) "Einstein" of Orthopaedic Medicine. He developed clinical reasoning and treatment strategy for soft tissue lesions in the musculoskeletal system ( 2007). In 1940 he popularised deep friction massage.

Janet Travell (1901 - 1997) An expert and leading pioneer in diagnosis and treatment of myofascial pain and understanding and working with trigger points.

The massage scandals of 1800 and the impact on the massage industry developed as massage become more popular and doctors did not have time to treat everyone for massage. Nurses were trained as well as non medical women. In England as massaged gain popularity there was an upsurge in supposed massage training schools that opened up. Poor women were encouraged into these and offered free training in exchange for future employment within the school clinics. These turned out to be houses for prostitution. This had a huge impact on massage as it was associated with prostitution and seen as a less respective form of healing. Massage parlours where established and continued to damage the reputation of massage. Advances in medical technology during the mid 1900 also led people to believe that healing with a knife or a pill was superior to the primitive methods of massage.

Comparison of Maori massage with western massage

Maori massage is traditional healing. Knowledge has been passed down through generations of healers. It treats the body, mind and spirit focusing on the emotional/spiritual root of the problem and incorporating physical massage along with energy work, herbal medicine and counselling. The physical side of the massage is traditional to western massage and the energy work is more traditional to eastern massage.

Miri Miri - Works on all 4 dimensions – physical, spiritual, family and mental health. Physical dimensions are similar to western relaxation massage.

Romi Romi - Very deep tissue body work massage using elbows, hands, knees, feet, sticks of wood and stones. Similar to western deep-tissue body work.

Development of professional massage in New Zealand started in 1894. The Society of Trained Masseuses was formed. By early 1900 there were over 300 massage therapists in New Zealand. The British Medical Association considered it important that adequate training was available and a massage department was established at Dunedin hospital in 1913. Massage was taught through Otago University and the Hospital. In 1946 this became the School of Physiotherapy. The Physiotherapy Act was established in 1949 and superseded the 1920 Masseurs Registration Act. To practise massage you had to adhere to the Physiotherapy Act and train for 600 hours. Physios did not want to do massage so the need for massage therapists increased.
In 1985 MINZI was formed and focused on education and standards of massage therapist with annual conferences for skill development. NZATMP was formed as a professional body in 1989 for the therapeutic massage profession focusing on educational standards, standards of professional image and increased public awareness of massage therapist. The name changed in the late 1990’s to TMA and focus to support and represent the needs of qualified therapists and be a voice for the massage industry. TMA and MINZI merged in 2007 to become MNZ.

Contemporary Massage is a growth industry. More employment options are available within the Spa industry and established massage clinics as well as working with health professionals and multi-disciplinary opportunities.
Education options are developing - Certificate in Relaxation, Diploma in Massage and Degrees are increasing the massage skill base.
Relaxation massage consisting of Swedish, Holistic, Reflexology, Energy work, Bowen technique, Hot stone therapy and Indian Head Massage.
Remedial bodywork consisting of Deep-tissue, Trigger-point therapy, Myofascial release and Lymphatic drainage.
Evolving techniques are Fascial work, Somatic work and interdisciplinary uptake.

The Philosophical approaches to massage of Body, Body -Mind and Body-Mind-Spirit and their relation to historical and cultural context previously discussed are:
Body - Western approach with focus on anatomy and physiology. If we do something to the body then we can predict what the result will be. Mind is not a factor as what you think about the therapy does not matter. Most forms of modern medicine work this way.

Body-Mind - How you think does affect your body. The set up of your clinic and your professional appearance affects the client's perception of you and the effectiveness of your treatment. Limited to within the clients own body and mind.

Body-Mind-Spirit - Thoughts, emotion and intention can affect other people. Relates to the holistic approach of eastern massage. Reiki uses energy flow in healing the body, uses the mind for distant healing and calls on spirit guides to assist. Intention is to heal without doing anything physical to the body.

My thoughts

Massage is a universal language - touch. No matter which culture, eastern or western, massage has had historical beginings and graduated from traditional techniques. It is easy to understand how rubbing relieves pain as we all do it when we hurt ourselves.
My own personal experiences in receiving eastern and western styles of massage such as Reiki, Hot stone therapy, Indian head massage, Swedish relaxation and remedial massage is that they have all assisted with managing pain and stress.
Both eastern and western massage techniques are being merged together today to obtain better results for the client.


Reiki Training
Class Notes McQuillan, D. (2009). Fundamentals of massage. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago Polytechnic.
Pervious Learning
Text Books


East West Arts Institute Inc, 2008. History of Massage. Retrieved June 1, 2009 from

Integrative touch and body works, 2005. A brief history of massage. Retrieved from (2007). Orthopaedic medicine. Retrieved June 6, 2009 from

Salvo, S. (2007). Massage therapy -principles and practice (3rd ed). Missouri, USA: Saunders

Wikipedia (2008), Emil Vodder . Retrieved June 6, 2009 from

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