Massage Therapy


Massage Therapy Essay, Research Paper

Recently, the practice of massage therapy has grown remarkably in the United States. It has become more widely accepted as a medical practice by doctors as well as the general public. Massage is defined as: ?the systematic manual or mechanical manipulations of the soft tissues of the body by such movements as rubbing, kneading, pressing, rolling, slapping, and tapping, for therapeutic purposes such as promoting circulation of the blood and lymph, relaxation of muscles, relief from pain, restoration of metabolic balance, and other benefits both physical and mental (Beck 3). The use of massage therapy has many benefits that even medicine or other methods of relief cannot offer.

Historical evidence has led to indicate that massage was probably one of the earliest remedies for pain relief and for the restoration of the body. The roots of massage can be traced back to ancient civilizations where many artifacts have been found to support the belief that prehistoric people massaged their muscles and perhaps even used some form of oil. Early civilizations including ancient Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Hindu, Greek and Roman used some form of massage therapy treatment. With the decline of the Roman Empire, popularity of massage and health care in general also declined. The Renaissance period brought back the interest in health and science, and massage once again became common practice. In the following century, medical practitioners incorporated massage therapy into their healing treatments.

Early in the nineteenth century, Per Henrik Ling, a physiologist and fencing master, from Sweden developed systems of movements that he found to be beneficial in improving physical conditions. Based on the science of physiology, his movements became known as Medical Gymnastics. Ling established the Royal Swedish Central Institute of Gymnastics in 1813. Ling’s Medical Gymnastics was taught in his new institute and became known as the Swedish Movements. Per Hendik Ling became known as the father of physical therapy. Mathias Roth, an English physician who studied at Ling’s institute, established his own institute in England. Then Charles Fayette Taylor, a physician from New York, studied under Roth and brought the Swedish Movements to the United States.

In the beginning of the twentieth century, massage therapy once again began to decline. A reason for the decline was that many false practitioners, taking advantage of its popularity, gave poor treatment and hurt the reputation of all practitioners. The advancement of new medicine also helped in the decline. “Technical and intellectual advances developed new treatment strategies that were based more on pharmacology and surgical procedures. The old ideas of treating disease through diet, exercise, and bathing gave way to the more sophisticated practices of modern medicine.” (Beck 13).

In the 1960’s, the popularity massage therapy once again revived. The popularity boom was caused by the increased cost of traditional medicines and increased awareness of physical and mental fitness. Massage therapy gained in popularity through the years and its recognition became official in 1992 when the first National Certification for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork exam was given.

Massage therapy offers many benefits to the human body without the use of medicines. “Massage therapy has clearly been shown to me to be very beneficial, particularly in areas where conventional medicine has not been as successful, including chronic arthritis, musculoskeletal syndromes and chronic headache, among others” (Fritz 56). Massage is a natural and instinctive way of relieving minor aches and pains as well as nervous tension and fatigue. Direct benefits include increased blood circulation, stretching or muscle tissue, and loosening of scar tissue. This results in the indirect effects of reduced blood pressure and the general relaxation of muscles. Major advantages of massage therapy include the increased health of the muscular system, the nervous system, and the circulatory system.

The stimulation of the muscular system and its circulation, nerve supply and cell activity encourages the nutrition and development of the muscles. “A muscle fatigued by exercise will be more quickly restored by massage than by rest alone because massage helps to remove from the muscle the lactic acid and metabolic wastes that cause it to tighten or become sore” (Thomson 43). Injured muscle tissue will have a faster healing time and with fewer complications with the application of therapeutic massage because it prevents, or breaks down, the formation of scar tissue. Massage also eases the pain of an injury to a ligament or tendon by dispersing the inflammation caused by an injury. Because of the benefits massage therapy offers the muscular system, massage is an effective means of improving muscle tone as well as muscle stamina and strength. “Massage has the ability to prevent or at least delay muscular atrophy that stems from inactivity” (Fritz 102). Massage will also help relieve, or even prevent, muscle cramps or spasms.

The nervous system can be stimulated or soothed depending on the type of massage applied. Massage stimulates the nerve endings in the skin and muscle tissue. As easily as massage can stimulate a nerve, it can bring about a sedative effect to the nervous system helping to induce deep relaxation and even relieve insomnia. A therapeutic massage affects the quality and quantity of blood flowing through the circulatory system. “Massage dilates the blood vessels, which improves the circulation of blood” (Beck 250). An increase in blood flow causes an increase in the blood supply and the nutrients that muscles and other vital organs receive. Massage eases the strain on the heart by helping push venous blood and lymph toward the heart. It also improves the blood-making process, resulting in the increase of the production of red and white blood cells.

Through its long history of use, therapeutic massage has become a very popular method of relief that is fairly safe. Today massage is available almost anywhere including spas, health clubs, resorts, clinics, as well as airports. Massage therapy has proven to be an effective method for treating many conditions for thousands of years and it will continue to be used for thousands of years to come.


Beck, Mark. Milady’s Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Massage. 3rd ed. Albany: Milady Publishing Company, 1999.

Thomson, Ann. Tidy’s Physiotherapy. 12th ed. Woburn: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999.

Fritz, Sandy. Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage. St. Louis: Mosby-Year Book, Inc., 1995.

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