Body and Soul
History of massage, part three...
by Ata Susanne Morse
Dec 08, 2016 | 1665 views | 0 0 comments | 110 110 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In parts 1 and 2 of this series I traced the history of massage through the Ancient River Valley civilizations of 7,000–1,000 BCE, and the “gymnasiums” of Ancient Greece and Rome up into the Middle Ages until 1,400 CE.

Moving forward, through the Renaissance and continuing into the 18th 19th and 20th centuries in Europe and America interesting developments and huge steps forward were being taken in the world of therapeutic massage and bodywork.

The Renaissance

(French for Rebirth)

1450 – 1600 CE

The Renaissance period started with a new burst of progressive thinking after Europeans tired of the cultural stagnation of the Middle Ages. Interest in the arts and sciences was revitalized, and medicine and art developed simultaneously, as renowned artists of the day studied and illustrated human anatomy and physiology.

Leonardo da Vinci`s (1452-1519) anatomical drawings of the human body still exist today as some of the most admired medical illustrations. Since human dissection was not yet widely accepted in Europe, his studies were often done in secret.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) of Belgium, another amazing artist of that period, was so passionate about learning human anatomy, that he stole a cadaver to dissect the body. He paid special attention to the muscles and their attachments to the bone, and wrote a book, “De Humani Corporis Fabrica,” published in 1543.

The 18th Century

During the next era, the Age of Enlightenment (or the Age of Reason), the sense of logic and reason was further explored and applied to different philosophies. Humanitarianism blossomed, and education for everyone became a cultural norm. Medical history was marked by the discovery of vaccination and inoculation, and among other things the ancient Chinese text “The Cong Fou” was translated into French in 1779. Accompanied by illustrations in the French version, it recommended controlled breathing and a system of exercises and postures for healthcare. Very likely, this text may have served as inspiration for Per Henrik Ling`s Swedish Gymnastics.

Per Henrik Ling

As the 18th Century transitioned into the 19th, Per Henrik Ling of Sweden (1776-1830) started a bodywork revolution. While traveling across Europe teaching, translating, and writing poetry and plays, Ling who studied anatomy and physiology extensively, learned to fence and noticed the one-sided effects of the repetitive motions on his body. For balance he incorporated gymnastics into his health regimen and relieved his chronic elbow pain.

The system he consequently developed included active, passive, and duplicated movements. In active movements patients moved their own bodies, as opposed to passive movements, where they were required to relax while receiving manipulations by an attendant. The terms “active” and “passive” are still used with the same definitions today. In duplicated movements the attendant physically resisted the patient`s efforts to move his or her own body, therefore requiring effort from both patient and attendant.

One of the first books about Swedish Gymnastics titled “The Prevention and Cure of Many Chronic Diseases by Movement” was written by Mathias Roth, an English Physician in 1851. He included drawings of treatments and showed the use of the low table originally introduced by Ling. As Ling`s techniques spread across Europe and Russia, they were called the “Swedish Movements” or the “Swedish Movement Cure.” The use of the term “Swedish Massage” likely stemmed from that time, and, even though there have been other contributions by various individuals, Ling has been credited in part with the revival of the massage profession and is considered by some the “Father of Swedish Massage.”

The 19th Century

Indeed, Bodywork made a significant step forward with the help of Ling. The validity of Swedish Gymnastics and their effectiveness as an individual therapy spurred other forms of manual therapy and the creation of specific massage and bodywork techniques in Europe and America.

In Europe, Dr Johan Georg Mezger of Holland (1838-1909) was the first to identify classic massage strokes and differentiate them from gymnastics and Swedish movements. He coined terms for massage techniques still used as a standard worldwide, like: effleurage, to touch lightly and fluidly, petrissage, a kneading movement, and tapotement, tapping or patting. Perhaps he chose French terminology, even though he was Dutch, because in his time the French words “massage,” “masseuse” and “masseur” had already gained popularity, and they are still used in many cultures. In the U.S. today however, as the profession has evolved, the term “massage therapist” has become the norm.

In 1888 in Sweden, the physician Dr Emil Kleen studied the effects of effleurage, petrissage, friction and vibration on circulation and lymph flow, and documented his results in “Handbook of Massage,” where he emphasized the inclusion of massage and manual therapy in medical treatment. He identified medical gymnastics as exercise or movement therapy, and differentiated it from massage as a manual therapy, not exercise, and being applied by another individual. Stressing the importance of anatomical and physiological education, palpation skills, hands-on techniques, and use of mechanical instruments in some situations, he discouraged laypersons from practicing massage because of its medical applications. He also included guidelines for therapist self-care and provided a general outline for a massage session.

In America, massage first gained notice in the 1850s with Dr. George H. Taylor and his natural approach to medicine. He integrated the Swedish Movements into his practice and founded the Remedial Hygienic Institute in New York, where he educated his patients about the nature of their illness and taught them good nutritional habits, and a holistic approach to health and disease. He explained his treatment regimen and included water and massage therapies.

Later, Dr Taylor`s “Movement Cure” was combined with Mezger`s massage terms and techniques, including one where the client remained lying on a table for the entire session, similar to the present-day massage treatment.

Another American, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943), who pioneered the health food movement in the US, became superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a medical and surgical center where patients got educated in the health benefits of a proper diet, fresh air, exercise and massage, good posture and sufficient rest. Specializing in water therapies and massage, the sanitarium became famous for being “the place where people learn to stay well.” Dr Kellogg conducted extensive massage research there and found significant beneficial effects, not just on the muscular, nervous, skeletal, and circulatory system, but also on the respiratory, integumentary (skin), and digestive systems as well as in thermal regulation, cellular metabolism, and kidney and liver activity. His book, “The Art of Massage,” written in 1895, is an excellent reference with detailed information on anatomical structures, physiological effects, massage techniques and therapeutic applications, joint movement, massage for specific body regions and diseases, rules for practice, and correct terminology. The text was published multiple times for its superior presentation and information.

The 20th Century

This brings us into the 20th century, when associations of massage professionals evolved to provide legitimacy to the practice, protect it, and develop it as a profession instead of an amateur trade. During World Wars I and II, British hospitals used massage to rehabilitate soldiers, and in London hospitals combined massage, physical exercise, physiotherapy, and orthopedic medicine departments. Nurses took courses, studied for a Massage Certification, and became nurse masseurs. The later part of the 20th century brought much change to the massage profession, as bodywork techniques and modalities were developed all over the world.

In future articles I will present an overview, and then explore in more detail various modalities and approaches to bodywork.

Information for this article has been compiled from: “Introduction to Massage Therapy” by Mary Beth Brown and Stephanie Simonson, 2nd edition published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Ata Susanne Morse has been a certified massage therapist since 1996. She has a private practice — Massage and Bodywork — in Moab, 435-260-2874; e-mail:

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