The History and Evolution of Massage Therapy

As people dedicate more time to self-care and wellness, the massage therapy industry grows by the day. A massage is a form of manual therapy that improves blood circulation, helps people deal with pain, speeds up the recovery process, relieves stress and anxiety, and much more. Today, we wanted to talk about the history of massage therapy to understand better the different techniques, when they originated, and which civilizations are responsible for the blessing called massage. 

Prehistoric Ancient Records

Massage as a form of holistic medicine has been around for centuries. The ancient prehistoric records show that people have practiced different massage techniques since 2700 BC. These claims are supported by archaeological evidence and state that massage was present in various civilizations but in slightly different forms. People in Mesopotamia, India, China, Egypt, Greece, Japan, Rome used massage as a way of healing.

According to records from Ancient Egypt, people distilled essential oils and used them for what we know today as aromatherapy. The Yellow Emperor’s Book On Internal Medicine dates back to 2700 BC and is the first official book that mentions massage as therapy. The book talks about how people performed massages and includes information about acupuncture still used to date. Although it wasn’t officially published in English until the 1900s, this book is one of the most important pieces for Chinese civilization and plays a vital role in Chinese and global medicine. 

The first drawings of meridians on the body and acupuncture points date back to the Neolithic Age in China. Another proof that massage was present way back is the drawings on Egyptian tombs. For example, the Tomb of Akmanthor is decorated with an illustration from 2330 BC that shows two men massaging each other. The most surprising fact is that Egyptians were so invested in massages that they were the first civilization to explore reflexology and are granted as the founders of this technique that’s still used globally. Let’s see the influence each civilization has had on modern massage, the way they contributed to the many methods we use today. 

Massage in Ancient Egypt

As we already mentioned, Ancient Egyptians used massage as a form of therapy for centuries and were founders of some of the most popular techniques. Records show that massage has been present in the Egyptian culture since 2700 BC. Egyptians continued exploring massage in the following years and developed reflexology 200 years later. The first mentions of this form of massage appeared around 2500 BC and shortly after was slowly introduced to other cultures as well (Rome, Greece, etc.). 

Reflexology uses pressure points on the feet, hands, or ears, and each point connects to an organ or area. The massage therapist works on these zones by applying pressure, helping their patients deal with pain, stress, anxiety, and much more. Reflexology hasn’t changed much since its beginnings, and it still plays a prevalent part in holistic therapy, especially for athletes. However, modern reflexologists still have a lot to learn and are constantly exploring the benefits of this technique. 

Ancient China and Japan

Ancient China is another massage therapy pioneer. Ancient Chinese people are responsible for introducing acupuncture to the world, a technique modern medicine still uses and loves. The first mentions of acupuncture date back to 2700 BC. Around this time, Chinese people released The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book Of Internal Medicine that describes pressure points, acupuncture, the way needles need to be inserted into the body, meridians, and much more. These are the first official records of acupuncture and acupressure, and most of the practices described in the book are present to date. 

Acupressure uses pressure on different body parts to boost the blood flow, alleviate pain, promote wellness, relieve stress, and overall wellbeing. On the other hand, acupuncture applies needles to the same pressure points to achieve better health, eliminate pain and discomfort. 

Japanese people started practicing massage a little later than ancient Egyptians and Chinese. Japanese Buddhist monks brought Tui Na to Japan, a form of massage described in Traditional Chinese Medicine. They first practiced it in China while being trained for monks, then modified it after arriving in Japan and gave it a new name, Anma. 

Anma is the first version of Shiatsu, the massage technique we can’t get enough of. Tokujiro Namikoshi, the founder of Shiatsu, based this technique on a fundamental principle that focuses on energy flow. According to Namikoshi, the body has 14 main meridians where the energy flows, and if any of those pathways are interrupted, the person can experience pain and discomfort. Massage therapists use their fingers, hands, knees, elbows, and even feet to apply pressure to certain points to restore energy levels. Modern massage has gone a step further, meaning that you can get a shiatsu foot massager or a neck massager and enjoy the benefits at home. 

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greeks are the pioneers of modern sports massage. This civilization was heavily focused on deep tissue massages that target knots all over the body. Since Ancient Greeks cherished a well-built, athletic body and focused a lot on their physical appearance, they needed a massage to prepare their bodies for better performance. 

The Greek massage aimed to relax the muscles, relieve pain, and prepare them for what’s to come. The therapists during those times also used oils, which is considered the foundation of aromatherapy. 

Massage in 19th - 20th Century

Massage therapy was heavily influenced by modern medicine during the 19th century. This is the era when the famous Swedish massage first appeared, thanks to Johan Georg Mezger. Although many sources credit Peter Ling as the inventor, the Dutch practitioner Johan actually laid the foundation for this technique. Mezger also introduced the standard Swedish massage terms such as vibration, friction, effleurage, tapotement, petrissage. 

During the 20th century, people started exploring even more massage techniques and expanding their knowledge of the existing ones. One of the most surprising facts is that practitioners used massage to treat injured soldiers and people during World War I. Soon after, massage became the next trend as a part of the healthy lifestyle movement, so more and more individuals started considering it to achieve higher wellness. 

Massage Today

Although massage is still considered alternative medicine, its benefits are undoubted! The many forms therapists practice today date back to ancient times and haven’t changed much. The traditional practices are still the basis of modern massage therapy. As technology advances, so do the different devices, especially at-home massagers. Scheduling a session with a professional therapist is excellent. Still, it can be a hefty investment, so more and more people are turning towards their favorite foot massager or neck massager and enjoying the benefits at home. Both science and technology are tapping and investing heavily in massage to deliver new products and explore its benefits even further. 


Knowing more about the history of massage therapy makes it much easier for you to understand that it’s one of the earliest forms of treatment. This is because the many techniques are beneficial for different health issues and can help people deal with pain, regulate blood pressure, recover from injuries, and much more. So if you want to improve your health, need help after surgery, or want to relax, it would be a good idea to consider tapping into massage and using it in your everyday life.