The history of massage is fascinating, made even more so by the fact that many techniques employed today have remained unchanged for thousands of years. No matter the technological advances, the laying of hands on ourselves or others when in pain remains instinctual.
Massage is the therapeutic manipulation and mobilization of the soft tissue – the skin and muscles of the body - with fingers, fists, whole hands, forearms, elbows and even feet, using different techniques such as kneading, effleurage, petrissage, palpating, friction, acupressure and trigger points.
It’s origins date back over 5000 years to India, where Ayurveda (“life health”) was seen as a sacred system of healing to restore the body back to homeostasis or natural balance. Through the ages, massage travelled to China where Buddhist knowledge of Chinese medicine, martial arts and yoga added to its evolution, then to Egypt where their experience in reflexology and applied acupressure added to the healing effects of body work. Then on to Japan, where pressure point techniques to rebalance energy levels and strengthen organs to naturally resist illness, gave us the practice of Shiatsu.
In ancient Greek and Roman times, between 800 and 700BCE, where sport was key to the culture of the times, athletes were known to use massage to condition their bodies before competition, and doctors going back to Hippocrates, “the father of medicine” and later Roman physician Galen, were known to use massage, oils and herbs to treat various injuries and ailments. Roman baths were built specifically for these rebalancing body treatments.
Later, in the early 1800’s, Per Hendrick Ling, a Swedish doctor, gymnast and teacher, created what would eventually be known as the Swedish massage method to help relieve chronic pain. The techniques were tweaked by Dutchman Johan George Mezger, and later by American masseurs and masseuses, and physical therapists with extra training in anatomy, physiology, hygiene, pathology and soft tissue manipulation.
In the early years of the 20th Century, many new techniques were developed, and ancient ones rediscovered, but massage was seen as an indulgent luxury only affordable by the wealthy, and later its reputation was somewhat tarnished with the advent of massage parlours promising a “happy ending”. Thankfully, the growth of the wellness industry in the US during the latter half of the century brought true massage, its many techniques and benefits, back into the mainstream where it continues to grow and evolve with our changing lifestyles, cultures and sporting codes.
For our resident Sports Massage Therapist, Daliah Hurwitz, her journey with massage has been one of lifelong learning. Apart from Sports Massage, she has also trained in aromatherapy massage, reflexology, and Thai massage.
She says, “Massage, and in particular Sports Massage, aims to relieve pain in the muscular skeletal system, helping to warm up and loosen stiff, tight muscles in order to elongate them, making them more flexible and improving their mobility. It aids in releasing muscle spasms, reducing pain, helping to break down scar tissue and fibrosis which develop as a result of immobilization from injuries, and speeding up recovery.”
Massage helps the body detoxify by removing lactic acid, greatly reducing the onset of DOMS (delayed onset muscle stiffness) and muscle fatigue produced by exercise. Stimulating blood and lymphatic circulation increases cellular oxygenation to improve physical performance, and facilitates the body’s ability to relax by releasing the feel-good hormones, serotonin and dopamine.
Says Daliah, “We all naturally tend to massage the aches, pains and tension we feel in our own bodies as we know instinctively that the healing power of touch helps, but for professional massage therapists, theoretical and practical study of human anatomy, physiology and pathology is compulsory for anyone wanting to work in any health profession, and extra knowledge on sports injuries is necessary if you are going to concentrate your massage on sports men and woman.”
Through comprehensive training, massage therapists learn when massage would not be recommended. If you have a fever, massage could increase your body temperature causing your fever to spike and making you feel more ill. Obviously, massage is not recommended with skin disorders such as weeping eczema, an inflamed rash, or open wounds, and also not when you are taking antibiotics. As much as you may feel that a massage may benefit you when you are ill, it is best to wait until you have fully recovered.
She says, “A sports massage therapist would need to be aware of and work around swelling, inflamed, bruised areas or varicose veins. Thrombosis, fractured or broken bones should clearly not be massaged, and will require a doctor’s assessment and care. However, lighter tissue massage can prevent shin splints and maintain the body once the athlete has rested and healed, and even relieve pain from osteoporosis.”
It’s important for your massage therapist to know your medical history. If you have high blood pressure, trigger point therapy is not recommended, but if you are on medication for it, then a lighter massage can greatly reduce stress levels, helping to regulate blood pressure more. With low blood pressure massage is not problematic, but the person may need a few minutes after the session to ground and move slowly in order not to feel dizzy.
“Though most athletes are in good health and massage would be more about injury prevention, maintenance and support for the body to perform at its peak, most would at some point need massage on scar tissue after an operation. Some are dealing with illnesses like diabetes or even cancer, or may be pregnant, and in all these cases it is important to get medical advice and guidance with regards to when and if massage would be helpful,” says Daliah.
In our next blog we will explore the role of essential oils and Aromatherapy during massage, specifically the oils contained in Wintergreen™ Arnica Oil.