History of Sports Massage

The history of massage is important to understand the development of the treatment and how it helps the profession to identify its strengths and weaknesses. Most of the concepts used today were written about years ago. The history of massage is supportive and validating to the profession, and has stood the test of time to prove itself as a vital health enhancing and rehabilitative approach. But there were also warnings as mistakes have also been made in the past.

Most ancient cultures practiced some form of healing touch. Healing methods often used herbs, oils and primitive forms of hydrotherapy. The Japanese came to know massage through the writings of the Chinese. The Egyptians left art work showing foot massage.

During the Middle Ages massage formed an important part of the healing tradition of the Slavs, Finns, and Swedes. The integration of the health practices of the common people was often associated with supernatural experiences and alienated massage from what little scientific approach there was during this time. Around the 16th Century the use of massage techniques for joint stiffness and wound healing after surgery began.

The development of Swedish massage is credited to Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839). Through experimentation he learned massage and put the information together in a workable form. He developed a system of massage that used many of the positions and movements of Swedish gymnasts. This system was based on the newly discovered knowledge of the circulation of blood and lymph. (The Chinese had been using these methods for centuries).

Ling taught many physicians from Germany, Austria, Russia and England who later spread his teachings to their own native lands. Ling and others practicing the Swedish Movement Cure (school teaching medical gymnastics), are credited with the second modern revival of massage.

In 1889, British physicians, who were just beginning to favourably acknowledge massage, because Queen Victoria supported the methods, became increasingly aware of the methods of abuse including false claims made about lay practitioners education or skills, patient stealing and charging high fees. It was the massage scandals of 1894, revealed by a commission of inquiry of the British Medical Association in the British Medical Journal which eroded the public and medical professions confidence in massage as a legitimate medical art during the late nineteenth century.

The polio epidemic of 1918 renewed interest in massage, as any remedy that offered any promise at all was desperately craved. Research on the benefits of massage in the prevention of the complications of paralysis began during this time.

Broad licensing began in the early 1940s. The most recent revival of massage began around 1960 and has continued to this day. Many controlled clinical studies in medicine, nursing, physical therapy and psychology inspired more academic and clinical interest. Increased medical awareness that lack of exercise contributed to cardiovascular disease and other diseases led to an emphasis on physical fitness. This led the health sciences, in the late 1960s, to move towards preventative medicine and the benefits of sports were again discovered.

Acupressure received more attention during the 1970s and 1980s than any other bodywork modality.

Current trends seem to suggest the increasing popularity of massage and body related therapies used for stress reduction and chronic musculoskeletal problems. Massage can be considered a part of manual medicine and throughout history has stood independently to promote health. Manual medicine has grown today to become the foundation for osteopathy, chiropractic and physical therapy.


  1. Sports massage therapy developed in early cultures when sport was of sufficient importance to society.
  2. Documented use of sports massage faded in Europe during the middle ages.
  3. Swedish massage developed in 1813 by Per Hendrik Ling, a gymnastics instructor.
  4. Increased development and use through the modern society.

Recent Developments and Governing Bodies

In 1988, a proposal was spearheaded by the American Massage Therapy Association for the development of a national certification process. This proposal stirred much controversy and was hotly debated. With participation from other professional massage and bodywork sources, the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork was created in 1992. More states have begun to license massage, and at this point an average of five hundred hours of education is required to practice massage. European and Canadian standards vary from little or no training of massage to extensive education requirements.

In Britain a graduated rating scheme was developed to find doctors or physiotherapists with specialism and expertise. Elite athletes were OK as they could afford a personal masseur to follow them around home and around international events. It was thought that 70-80% of athletes wanted a massage and so the National Sports Medicine Institute (NSMI) was the body allocated to look at problem. In September 98 they looked at over 60 courses in order to draw up the necessary core curriculum, a standard. Institutes were encouraged to submit their courses for recognition. Only 3 came out that came up to the standard required:

London School of Sports Massage

Welsh Institute of Sport

Rayworth College

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