The Surprising History of Massage


The history of massage therapy is much longer and more extensive than you might think. Though massage has become more popularized over the last several decades, healing touch has always been a large component of our social communication as beings. As societies began to form and develop, touch eventually evolved into the practice we now know as massage.

Follow the history massage as it spans over centuries and across the globe:

15000 BCE, Europe: Cave drawings in early Europe depicted images that exhibit the use of therapeutic touch.

2500-1000 BCE, China: Massage appeared in the definitive Chinese text The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine. This book continues to be a staple in massage training, as well as other forms of alternative healing practices like acupuncture or acupressure.

1800 BCE, India: Hindu tradition adopted massage as a pillar of Ayurveda, a holistic medicine based on the idea of balance of bodily systems.

2500 BCE, Egypt: Tomb paintings in Egyptian pyramids illustrated massage as a medical tradition.

480 BCE, Greece: Western massage was born. Hippocrates adapted the ancient technique of massage to direct strokes up towards the alimentary tract. Interestingly enough, the Greeks adopted massage as a compliment to their fitness and beauty regimen.

100-40 BCE, Rome: Julius Caesar was said to have used massage therapy to assist in the management of his epilepsy.

850 CE, Persia: An encyclopedic piece compiled by Rhazes made note of Greek, Roman, and Arabic medicinal practices. This summation included massage.

1600 CE, China: Detailed reports of Chinese pediatric massage and the Japanese techniques of both passive and active massage were published.

1700 CE, United States: An early form of massage arrived in the US. Doctors hired people called “rubbers” who provided hands on therapy through rubbing and friction after operations were performed.

1700 CE, Switzerland: Simon Tissot published a work on gymnastics, urging doctors to utilize massage in addition to exercise in helping patients recover.

1800 CE, United States: Academic Dr. Douglas Graham penned various books about the history of massage, popularizing the actual word ‘massage.’

1880-1910 CE, United States: This time period has been heralded as the golden age of massage in America. According to late massage expert Robert Noah Calvert, who wrote several books on massage prior to his death, “Regulation of the massage field increased, helping the business and ethics of massage to become more evident.”

1868 CE, Sweden: Johan Georg Mezger wrote a doctoral dissertation titled, “Treatment of Foot Sprain With Friction,” as well as a small book on massage. There has been some controversy about whether he or his predecessor Peter Henrik Ling should be called the creator of the Swedish massage. Mezger coined terms for muscle manipulation and the system of massage as a standalone treatment, making him the true creator of the modality.

1889 CE, Sweden: The oldest massage association, The Dutch Association For Medical Gymnastics and Massage grew into existence.

1894 CE, Great Britain: The Society of Trained Masseuses was formed.

1992 CE, United States: The American Massage Therapy Association established the National Certification Examination for therapeutic massage and bodywork.

2013 CE, United States: On-demand massage is born.

Though it wasn’t really until the 20th century that massage became a standalone means of relaxation and rejuvenation, massage has clearly been a sought after remedy for all sorts of ailments. Interested in learning more about different massage modalities? Read more here.


The History  of Massage: An Illustrated Survey From Around the World by Robert Noah Calvert