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About Massage Therapy

The origin of the word “massage” is obscure. The word is derived from either the Arabic “mass”, to tough, or the Greek “massein”, to knead (Basmajian, 1985). For thousands of years, literature from all over the world has mentioned kneading, pressing, anointing or rubbing as a healing practice. The Yellow Emperor’s Classics of Internal Medicine, written in China is about 1000 BC, probably the oldest medical book in existence, mentions the treatment of paralysis and reduction of circulation using massage and was combined with breathing and postural exercises.

Hippocrates, circa 460-375 BC, discussed “gently rubbing” a dislocated shoulder following reduction to aid in healing (Basmajian, 1985).

  • Massage, exercise and hydrotherapy were promoted by the Greek physician Asclepides. The ancient Greeks used massage on athletes before and after sport. It was thought to prepair the muscles before activity and remove extra fluid and metabolites after sport; a theory which is in use today. 

  • In India, a ninth century temple carving shows Buddha being treated by a masseuse. The Hindi term champna (to press) means massage; it is likely the origin of the word shampooing. Used by English writers in nineteenth century India to describe massage, it now means to wash, rub or lather the hair (Basmajian, 1985). 

  • Massage terms in the Islands of Tonga include fota and toogi-toogi, while in Hawaii massage is called lomi-lomi (Wood, Becker, 1981). 

  • The pressure indicated for massage depends on the author cited (Basmajian, 1985; Tappan, 1961; Wood, Becker, 1981). For example, vigorous and even painful techniques were advocated by Admiral Henery (1731-1823), while his contemporary, the physician Lorry, thought that techniques should be applied with gentleness. A balance between these extremes was suggested by William Beveridge of Edinburgh, who thought the therapist should adjust the pressure to the client’s symptoms and tissue health. 

  • The British physiotherapy profession initially relied solely on massage techniques and had incorporated remedial exercise and “medical electricity” by the end of the First World War. Massage was advocated in the 1930s and 40s by Dr. James Mennell, an English physician specializing in the treatment of fractures. The connection between massage and physiotherapy remained strong in the U.K. as late as 1977, massage therapy was a core skill and was examinable material for British physiotherapists (Boyling, Palastanga, 1994). 

  • Massage therapy as a separate profession was formally introduced to the U.S.A. in 1917, when the Surgeon General set up a rehabilitation process for soldiers wounded in the First World War. Mary McMillan, an American trained in massage therapy in Britiain, was appointed to set up this process, including the training of massage therapists to European standards (Boyling, Palastanga, 1994). 

  • Almost 50 years later, an American physiotherapist named Gertrude Beard wrote about massage therapy techniques for use by physical therapists, publishing the extensively researched Beard’s Massage.

  • In Ontario, Canada, massage therapy was first legislated and controlled under the Drugless Practitioner’s Act (DPA) from 1924 to 1993. This changed on December 31, 1993, when the regulation of most professions covered under the DPA, including massage therapy, was transferred to another health care act. This new legislation, called the Regulated Health Professions Act (RHPA), brings massage therapy under the same legislation that governs nurses, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, chiropractors and physiotherapists. The inclusion of massage therapists with these other health care practitioners, all having recognized standards and obligations, further legitimizes massage therapy in Ontario as a respectable profession.

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