A Brief History of Massage

The recorded history of medicine goes back a long way. Before men became scientists, medicine involved the traditional use of nature's medicine and the 'art of rubbing'.

Hippocrates (460-377BC) stated:

'..... the physician must be experienced in many things, but most assuredly in the art of rubbing. For rubbing can bind a joint that is too loose and loosen a joint that is too rigid'.

Hippocrates, a Greek, gained the reputation as the 'father of medicine' and by his power of observation he set down laws that founded the birth of science.

Recorded evidence of massage as a healing method dates back to 2350BC in Babylon with the discovery of text on clay tablets that implies the use of massage. 

Other cultures (Egypt, China, India) around the same period in history depict drawings and text of foot and hand massages and the act of anointing with aromatic oils. Other ancient healing techniques included herbs, healing baths, balms and rituals.

It is interestingly recorded that Julius Caesar had himself 'pinched' all over as a cure for neuralgia (nerve pain).

The present methods of Swedish Massage were formulated in the 18th century by a Swede, Per Henrik Ling, a gymnast and fencing instructor who suffered a debilitating rheumatic condition. He put together a series of techniques that came from ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese and Egyptian cultures and left them as a legacy for future generations.

Since then there have been several experts in the field who have become well known for their advancements in the study and practice of massage therapy.

Albert Hoffa published the book Technik der Massage in 1900 and Max Bohm published Massage it's Principals and Techniques in the 1900's. Many wonderful books have been written since then and knowledge on the subject has continued to flourish and today massage is emerging more and more as a legitimate form of physical therapy.

Medicine has changed dramatically over the centuries and despite advances in medical science, traditional healing techniques have survived their decline during the middle-ages and have re-emerged with renewed interest and scientific understanding.

As the shortcomings of modern allopathic medicine have become apparent this renewed interest in traditional healing techniques has resulted in the rediscovery of an old subject and the adaptation of traditional cures to modern disease. Massage is now being integrated into mainstream medicine and nursing, in private practice, the health and beauty industry, the day spa industry, in physiotherapy and in sports and fitness areas.

        Massage Methods

Massage certainly plays a vital role in an integrative system of health care, both as a preventative and a restorative. Besides its role as a safe and effective physical therapy in its own right, massage also plays an increasingly popular role when used in combination with other complementary therapies discussed following.

For example chiropractors, osteopaths and physiotherapists have determined massage to be a valuable therapeutic adjunct to their own modality and often use massage prior to that modality to loosen and soften tissues in preparation for manipulation or as a part of their overall therapeutic approach.

Swedish Massage

It is a general style of massage that is performed with the intention to relax and soothe. It encompasses basic Swedish Massage techniques that work over large groups of muscles. These techniques include various types of effleurage, petrissage, friction, tapotement and vibration.

It generally benefits health and well-being by the reflex effects of passive exercise such as that produced by encouragement of the blood circulation, oxygenation of tissues and elimination of waste as well as sedation of the nerves.

It is particularly useful for those suffering the effects of a sedentary lifestyle in today's modern society and can reduce stress and muscular tension.

Relaxation massage incorporates the use of Swedish Massage techniques such as effleurage, petrissage and friction, which are more soothing techniques rather than the more stimulating tapotement techniques. The goal of a relaxation massage is to encourage the action of the parasympathetic nervous system (often called the peacemaker). This is achieved by sedating or soothing the sympathetic nervous system - the flight or fight system which is activated when an individual is stressed.

Remedial Massage

This is the scientific application of massage and associated body therapy techniques such as trigger point therapy, acupressure and muscle energy techniques with the objective of treating a mechanical condition, discomfort or disease.

Such conditions may include:

Joint problems, frozen shoulder, sciatica, wry neck, arthritis, poor circulation, muscle spasms, fibrositis and lumbago, headaches, back and neck pain and hip complaints.

In treating the client, the therapist can use a range of techniques which could include:

  • Deep transverse friction (DTF)
     When massaging in a deep, transverse direction, the muscle fibres are separated and fibrotic changes that occur as a result of healing processes following injury as the body sets down scar tissue, are broken up.
  • Broad cross-fibre stroking (BCFS)
     Using a compressive technique, the intention is to stretch transversely across the muscle fibres with the intention of separating them.
  • Trigger point therapy 
    Trigger points are hardened, palpable, hypersensitive bands of tissue found within the muscle. When active, they can be a source of referred pain, paresthesia and restriction of movement. When latent, they may be a source of muscular tension and cause some restriction of movement but not refer pain or sensation to other areas. Releasing a trigger point can help restore normal muscular function.
  • Acupressure
     This is a method of localised thumb, finger or elbow pressure on the same points of the meridians as used in acupuncture. By applying pressure on specific points relating to the condition, energy may be either stimulated or sedated.
  • Muscle energy techniques (MET)
     Muscle energy techniques are a form of therapy that utilises the energy of the muscle in an isometric or isotonic fashion bringing about a lengthening or toning of the muscle.
  • Vodder lymphatic drainage therapy
    It was devised by Dr Emil Vodder in France in the 1930's, specifically to work on the lymphatic system of the body. It differs greatly to traditional massage in that it uses an extremely light touch that moves lymph fluid from the tissues towards the major lymph vessels, nodes and back into the general blood circulation. It has proven effective in the treatment of many conditions such as tonsillitis, sinusitis, nervousness, hypertension and much more. It is used pre and post operatively in many European hospitals by trained therapists for conditions such as mastectomy, where it helps to prevent the pooling of lymph fluid in the arms following removal of lymph nodes and damage of lymph vessels. By combining any of these techniques, the therapist has truly created a holistic form of body therapy for the client and the results speak for themselves.

Understand your body and mind.

Many times over the years, I have come across clients who have chronic injuries presenting to be treated, that have occurred and re-occurred over long periods of time. When asked why they have taken so long to do anything, the usual replies are that they were too busy, the injury was better after a few days so I didn't bother having it treated or they ignored the pain and continued doing the same things. In most cases that I see, when people choose to ignore an injury, they can return to their work or lifestyle for a while, especially if they are young, but the body will tell you in no uncertain way when it has had enough. Every time the injury happens, it seems to take only a minute movement to re-injure the same site and the pain and time of recovery is more intense and longer to recover.

Once an injury occurs, it is difficult to bring a full recovery to the injury and a weakness exists to present when we are under stress and strain the next time.

Ideally, it would be beneficial for the client to seek treatment soon after the initial injury from a therapist to achieve best results. But I believe it is necessary to look deeper into why this injury has occurred and continuing to happen. What is going on in the client's life? Are they under stress? Is their work or lifestyle repetitious, boring- possibly depressed. Is there an emotional factor from their past that manifests when under stress causing injury? In other words, the client has to be seen in a holistic approach, recognising that these emotional factors can create injury and disease by the way of our internal dialogue in our mind and the resulting thoughts and words that result from this process. If those thoughts are positive, we are able to cope with what life brings us, we are energetic with a happy disposition, everything we do comes easily. Our body responds to this way of being by better flexibility, more endurance, it functions at its ideal state, we can use our body to perform functions that seem to require little effort. We are mentally more focused, alert, with a strong sense of purpose. As the saying goes" We are in the flow".

On the contrary, when we are full of fear, doubt, stressed, depressed, emotionally drained, we are listening to the negative dialogue in our mind and the thoughts and words we use will affect us in our beliefs and experiences. Of course, they will be negative and have an effect on all levels of our being-mentally, physically and spiritually. Every time I have a client with shoulder problems, I bring up the idea that the shoulders can carry our emotional baggage on them, such as Atlas carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, so do people carry the weight of their emotional world on their shoulders. You can see the "light bulb moment" when they realise that what is happening in their life is affecting them. Their muscles tend to be tight, very little blood flow, painful, stiff, making their life miserable and unable to do basic things. In fact, many clients do not know what it feels to be relaxed, they have lived with stress throughout their body for so long it becomes the normal feeling for them. When I ask them to relax an area, clients find it difficult, even impossible to do it. I do this to create an awareness for the client , to become more in touch with their body and to help establish a basic understanding of relaxed and tight muscles. Once that becomes understood by the client, results from treatment are quicker and more lasting. This relaxing exercise helps improve their understanding of their body, and the power of thought and the value of positive thoughts and words to create positive actions physically, mentally and spiritually.

So when you have an injury, feeling stressed, unhappy with life, doing the same thing at work over and over, your mind has a million thoughts, take the time to explore your thoughts, the dialogue in your mind, listen to the soft voice in your head( the first voice rather than the second one) hear the words that you say(whether positive or negative), find some time to be alone with your thoughts in meditation and tune into your body to feel any sore or tense spots. Start from the top of your head and move down through your body to your toes, paying attention to any areas that feel tight or sore and spend some time in these areas until they feel relaxed. I wish you a happy, contented, positive life enjoyed on all levels of your being.



The Power of Touch 

Bertrand Russell once said, 'Not only our geometry and our physics, but our whole conception of what exists outside us, is based upon the sense of touch.'

Aristotle was the first to enumerate the five senses- sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. It is interesting to compare these senses and acknowledge that touch is the only sense that involves the whole body. The other senses involve specialised organs all situated in the head and our sense of touch, on the other hand, is found on all surfaces of the body to one degree or another.

There are a variety of touch sensations, including pressure, itches, tickles, pain and cold. Touch can be painful and also, pleasurable. 

 To understand touch we must understand the sensory function of the skin because it is here the sensory nerve endings that relay touch sensation to the central nervous system reside. The skin is the most constant active source of sensations in the body.

Thanks to the function of millions of sensory nerve endings in the skin our bodies are protected from possible danger by alerting us to the sensation of pain. In fact, the skin is clearly crucial to our survival by its other functions such as its ability to protect the internal environment from invasion by foreign substances, the prevention of excessive loss of fluid, regulation of temperature and its excretory functions. These other functions continue unconsciously controlled by the nervous system.

Touch has been found to be essential for well-being and touch deprivation has been shown to have devastating affects on humans and animals alike. In fact, sensory deprivation produces symptoms similar to malnutrition including the retardation of bone growth, failure to gain weight, poor muscular coordination, immunological weakness and general apathy.

A mothers touch can soothe the upset or sick child just as the touch of a friend, nurse or carer can alleviate sadness and distress. A healing touch can change lives. A person may be a ' touchy, feely person'.

Someone may be ' touchable' or 'touchy' or 'touch us deeply'.

Touch is as vital to the body and soul as food.

A Brief Outline of Other Complimentary Therapies

As with the diversity of life, there is not one health modality to suit everyone. We have to listen to our body, to observe how our body responds to a treatment from a specific modality, to see if we feel better, no pain or at least reduced pain, able to move more freely and whether that discipline is compatible with our own personal philosophy in life. Do not persevere with a modality where you are not gaining a result that is improving or at the very least, has stabilised to enable you to recover. It is important to remember that not everyone is the same, we are all different, and so one modality that works for you may not be effective for someone else. So keep looking at other modalities until you find one that works for you and you are comfortable with the practitioner and his knowledge. As with people, not all practitioners are the same.

Speak to people, find out by word of mouth from friends, acquaintances about who they would recommend. It's amazing how once you create intent and begin to ask around and investigate, how a practitioner's name will be mentioned to you. There is a modality for you, you have to be open to find the one that works for YOU!

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture

Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) dates back over 3,000 years and includes four methods of treatment - herbology, acupuncture, manipulative therapy and food cures. It also encompasses the remedial exercises of tai-chi and qi-gong.

TCM is a system of medicine that grew out of the need to maintain good health among the Chinese people. They found that consuming herbs, inserting needles into energy points on the body, eating the right foods, massaging and exercising the body could keep them healthy and able to ward off disease. They discovered that balance was the key to optimal health and the system they developed depended upon balance of the elements of yin and yang (the balance of two opposing forces) and the balance of the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water).

The fundamental principle of TCM in terms of the treatment of disease is to strike a balance between yin and yang and among the treatments based on this principle are the sedating of excess energy and the toning of deficient energy. Yin should be treated with yang eg. a cold disease should be treated with warming herbs, and yang should be treated with yin eg. a hot disease should be treated with cooling herbs.

In TCM philosophy, the five elements theory consists of four laws governing the relationship among the five materials. According to this theory, the five organs of liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidneys are viewed as the key organs and correspond to the five elements and each element has an influence on the control of the organs.

TCM states that in good health vital energy or qi is said to flow unobstructed through invisible channels called meridians throughout the body and disease is a result of an impediment to the flow of energy from a disturbance between yin and yang or the five elements.

Acupuncture or needling of points along the meridians can restore and regulate the flow of qi.


The Indian system of medicine known as Ayurveda is said to be the oldest existing system of medicine in the world. This system is based around the principles that three basic physiological and psychological or personality types (called doshas) exist, and each dosha requires different foods and medicines to maintain good health.

It views health as a balance between a person and the environment and is a holistic system that takes into account climate, work, eating habits, exercise, emotions, spirituality and even sexual activities. Ayurveda, like TCM, also recognises life force, which is known as prana.

Ayurvedic therapies include diet and nutrition, herbal medicine, massage, yoga, meditation, colour and sound therapy.

Herbal Medicine

Also known as phytotherapy and botanical medicine, herbal medicine is one of the oldest forms of medicines used by mankind. Much scientific research is now available that proves the effectiveness of the herbs. The World Health Organisation has estimated that at least 80% of the world's population relies mainly on natural medicines in the form of plant and mineral substances.

Modern herbal medicine combines a holistic philosophy with the exclusive use of plant material. Past medical history and physical, psychological and environmental factors are assessed for each patient, in order to discover the underlying cause of symptoms.

Treatment is not limited to easing symptoms, however, but aims to restore the body's normal functions so that it can heal itself. For example, treating eczema could involve the use of herbs that act on the liver, kidney, nervous system and the lymphatic system as well as herbs that soothe the skin and relieve itching.

A herbal medicine may comprise a whole plant, parts of the plant (leaves, stems, seeds, flowers, fruit, root) or extracts of a plant (such as tincture or oil).


A homeopathic remedy is a minute dose of a substance that, in large amounts, produces the same symptoms from which the patient is suffering. The aim is to stimulate the body's defence mechanisms into fighting the disease.

The idea of using 'like to treat like' goes back millennia, but it was not until about 200 years ago that the German physician, Samuel Hahnemann, founded homeopathic medicine. He experimented to discover the smallest dose that would be effective rather than using the large, often harmful doses that were popular in orthodox medicine.

As many as 3,000 remedies are used made from plants, minerals, or animals that may be extremely poisonous in large doses.


Aromatherapy involves the administration of essential oils, derived mainly by the process of steam distillation, from the volatile component of plant substances.

Essential oils may be applied by vaporisation in the air, or by dermal application where their therapeutic properties have an effect once absorbed into the blood stream.

Essential oils can affect the psychological aspect of clients as well as the physiological and the study of Aromatherapy looks at all aspects of individual oils.

Nutritional Medicine

The importance of correct diet and nutrition is mainstream these days, and along with adequate physical therapy, a diet is said to provide all the nutrients required.

However, this is not always the case as can be seen in the often declining nutritional status of food grown in inadequate soils, often fed on harsh chemicals and sprayed with toxic chemicals, along with the introduction of genetically modified crops that have not been proven to be safe to consume over an extended period of time. Nutritional imbalances can and do occur.

Nutritional medicine focuses on the restoration of correct nutritional status through the use of vitamins and minerals or other micronutrients.


An early alternative to the medicine of the day, Osteopathy made its debut around 1874 when Andrew Tyler Still became disenchanted with the crude methods of blood-letting, purging and the use of drugs and heavy metals such as mercury.

Osteopathy was based on a philosophy of traditional healing methods combined with a contemporary understanding of the functioning of the body. Manipulative therapy was added to this approach in 1879. Today, osteopathic manipulations are applied to the soft tissues of the body as well as the bones and joints with the aim of improving physiological movement, relief pain and discomfort, relaxation of body tissues and to support the body's own self healing mechanisms.

Like other complementary therapies it is based on the natural law taking into consideration the body as a unit where all parts must function harmoniously, the body's own healing power, the interrelationship between all body parts, environmental factors and natural support for the body's systems.


Chiropractic manipulation therapy was devised in the 1890's by Daniel Palmer, an American magnetic healer, around the same time that Andrew Tyler Still devised Osteopathy. Bartlett Palmer, Daniel's son, further promoted chiropractic therapy to the professional status and today it holds a major place in body therapy work.

Chiropractic therapy recognises the vital part that the nervous system plays in the maintaining homeostasis (balance), and that the body has an innate ability to heal itself when provided with gentle support of its functions.

The correct alignment of the spine is considered vital to maintaining neural function and chiropractic therapy utilises several techniques to ensure the correction of spinal subluxations. Such techniques include applied kinesiology, sacro-occipital technique, Gonstead technique, the use of a spring-loaded activator and several other methods.


Interestingly, physiotherapy began in the 1930's from massage therapy and the Australian Association was originally the Australian Massage Association. Massage therapy went into decline and physiotherapy developed a strong mainstream reputation using manipulation, exercise, hydrotherapy, thermotherapy and electrotherapy.

The physiotherapist's main focus is the restoration of the musculoskeletal system following injury.