May 15, 2023 3 min read

From July 17-23, we’re celebrating EveryBody Deserves a Massage Week. This national week of massage awareness was founded in 1995 by the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) as a way to educate and inspire patients about the benefits of massage therapy for improving quality of life.

Despite how popular massage therapy has become in recent years, many people are still unaware of how massage therapy helps and why it’s such a sought-after form of holistic healing for the mind and body.

Some of the top benefits of massage therapy include:

Increases mood and reduces stress
Improves sleep quality and relaxation
Boosts blood flow and oxygen circulation
Optimizes mobility and flexibility
Helps manage chronic pain from musculoskeletal conditions
As we’ll see, our knowledge of the benefits of massage therapy dates back thousands of years. However, it’s only within the last century that the medical field has begun to incorporate massage therapy as a form of integrative medicine for managing a variety of conditions from anxiety and insomnia to digestive disorders and cancer recovery.

Massage therapy is a five-thousand-year-old practice. Throughout the millennia, ancient massage therapy techniques have evolved but the benefits have remained the same. Since its discovery, massage therapy has helped patients relax, heal and restore their sense of vitality and well-being.

Below is a look at the history of massage therapy from ancient massage techniques to today’s.

Ayurveda is an ancient practice of natural medicine from India and Nepal. Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine believe there’s an optimal mental, physical and spiritual balance of well-being that can be achieved through various natural techniques. According to Ayurvedic medicine, total health can be achieved by balancing the body’s natural energy centers called chakras.

Ancient Ayurvedic massage began an estimated 5,000 years ago, relying on the use of organic oils. Both the specific oils and the types of movements used in Ayurvedic massage were selected based on the patient’s unique set of ailments, often using techniques that combine pulling, stretching and directing muscle tissue in rhythmic strokes.

A modern version of Ayurvedic massage is still practiced to this day throughout the world.

As the concept of Ayurvedic massage spread throughout the ancient world, it eventually arrived in Egypt, where practitioners adopted their own version of the practice. Egyptian tomb paintings depict ancient massage therapy and unique bodywork techniques that resemble today’s practice of reflexology.

According to archaeological findings, Egyptians are believed to have practiced hand and foot reflexology massage treatments as a form of total body healing. Today, reflexology practitioners use touch therapy on the hands, arms, legs and feet to help release tension and provide deep relaxation.

Traditionally, practitioners of this ancient practice have believed that certain sections of the hands and feet correspond to specific bodily organs. The theory is that by putting pressure on these specific areas, reflexologists may help in the healing process of certain diseases by relaxing the affected organs.

Reflexology is still widely practiced today throughout the world and is often incorporated into clinical massage therapy.

As massage spread across Asia, Chinese and Japanese Buddhist monks adopted the practice as a way to strengthen their mental and physical health and build up resistance to disease. The Buddhist practice of ancient massage therapy, anma, eventually became known as shiatsu, a name it continues to go by today.

Shiatsu massage therapy is based on the theory that if you stimulate certain identified pressure points, you will be able to restore natural balance throughout the body. Practitioners use their fingers, thumbs and palms to apply pressure to localized areas of the body, releasing tension and bringing about deep relaxation.

Targeting these pressure points is also believed to stimulate lymphatic and blood circulation and elicit a nervous system response that relieves stress. Shiatsu massage is still commonly practiced today and is the basis for many self-massage solutions, including massage chairs and massage sticks.

Health and well-being were central to ancient Greco-Roman life, with public spas being places that citizens could go for relaxation and rejuvenation, helping to maintain and restore physical health. Full-body spa massages were given as a way to loosen joints and boost circulation in order to improve physical performance, especially for athletes who wanted to boost their strength.

Ancient Greek society is known for having been advanced in its approach to healing and medicine, starting with their belief in the benefits of massage. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, would prescribe his patients “rubbing” as a form of physical recovery. To Hippocrates, massage was critical to patient health, and he would encourage physicians to practice their massage skills extensively in order to refine their techniques.