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The Origins of Massage

Massage as a therapy has been around for many hundreds of years and there are records of its use dating from 3000 BC in China. People in ancient China recognised the benefits of massage and used specific movements on certain parts of the body which helped with relaxation and to promote and restore health. Other countries such as Japan and India also had their own forms of massage and it was used to relieve tiredness, increase energy levels and improve general health. In ancient Greece massage formed a part of everyday life and it was included in their exercise and fitness routine. It was prescribed by philosophers and physicians for its restorative powers after battle and for the general preservation of the body and mind. Gladiators were massaged with oil to ensure that their muscles were warm and supple before battle. The Romans also incorporated massage into their ritual for relaxation purposes at the Roman baths. All members of society visited the baths daily and after bathing they would be anointed with oils and massaged from head to foot. The well known Roman emperor Julius Caesar was also known to have a daily massage. A Greek doctor, Galen (130-200 AD) is known to have recommended massage for the treatment of injury and illness and stated that massage strokes should be used in different directions depending on what results were required. It is at about this time that massage was also being used for pleasure rather than just for medicinal purposes. A French doctor, Ambrose Pare (1517-90), graded massage into categories such as gentle, medium and vigorous. He recorded using friction movements to help reduce swelling before treating dislocated joints.

The History of Swedish Body Massage

Swedish body massage is believed to have started in Europe in the early 1800’s. The techniques still used today were developed by a Swedish physiologist and fencing master, Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839), who had travelled to China and gained a detailed insight into the massage techniques used there. Per Henrik Ling was able to develop his own system of massage movements based on the knowledge gained from his travels and his prior knowledge of physiology and gymnastics. He found that the movements he developed helped to improve his health and maintain his physical condition. The work of Per Henrik Ling was first recognised in his own country in 1813 when the Royal Swedish Central Institute of Gymnastics was established by the Swedish government with Ling as the President. Other centres were opened around the world and in 1938 the Swedish Institute opened in London. In 1894 the Society of Trained Masseuses was established by eight women and it worked to raise standards and promote massage as a professional occupation. This Society later became known as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. In 1899 Sir William Bennett opened a massage department in St Georges Hospital in London which helped to establish massage as an accepted form of treatment in the medical profession. Therapeutic massage continued to grow in popularity and during the first World War it was used as a treatment for shell shock or post traumatic stress disorder and for nerve damage. After this time western medicine began to look more to technology rather than traditional practices and medical massage started to decline. It did not start to to become popular again until the 1960’s when complementary therapies saw a resurgence as people looked for preventative methods and relaxation techniques to help them combat stress. There are many systems and methods of massage but Swedish massage remains the basis for most of them and plays a pivotal role in therapies such as physiotherapy, aromatherapy and for managing stress.

Massage as a Therapy

Massage involves the use of the hands, or mechanical means, to manipulate the bodies soft tissue and in particular the muscles. The various movements used during a massage affect the skin, the muscles, blood vessels, lymphatic drainage channels, nerves and some of the internal organs. Deep pressure can stimulate the body systems including the immune, the circulatory, the lymph and digestive systems, while slow more gentle movements can slow them down and relax them. Sensory nerve endings in the skin respond to touch and pressure and when these receptors are stimulated they send nerve impulses to the spinal cord and then to the brain. Signals from the touch nerve fibres take priority over those from chronic pain fibres when travelling to the brain resulting in some pain fibres not reaching the brain, as a result less pain may be felt. The sensation of touch may also stimulates chemicals in the brain called endorphins to be released which are the body’s own painkillers. These may not only ease the perception of pain but may also induce a feeling of well-being and relaxation which in turn may help to improve mood. The movements used during a massage treatment can vary from gentle soothing strokes to more stimulating and pounding strokes.

Massage may effect the body both physically and mentally. The physical effects may be of benefit to many parts of the body including the skin, muscular, skeletal, circulatory, lymphatic, nervous, digestive, respiratory, urinary, endocrine and the reproductive system. After a massage circulation may be improved and so the tone and texture of the skin maybe given a boost due to dead skin cells being removed, all of which in turn may help to improve skin colour. Massage may also help to boost the skins elasticity as the production of sebum may be increased which will moisturise the skin and help to fight infection. The most noticeable effect of massage may be felt in the muscles as the treatment may help to remove a build up of lactic acid, which eases fatigue in over worked muscles. Massage may help to relieve muscle stiffness and so improve muscle tone and mobility which in turn may help to support good posture. In an indirect way the skeleton may benefit from massage as bones are found underneath the muscles and so if the muscle becomes less stiff then a joint may feel less tense. If the flexibility of a muscle is improved less pressure will be placed on the bones and joints which may help to improve posture.

The massage movements over the body help to increase the flow of blood and nutrients around the body which may help with cell repair and renewal and the removal of toxins from the body. Gentle massage techniques may help to reduce stress in a person and help to relax them and subsequently may help with conditions such as high blood pressure. Poor circulation which results in cold hands and feet may be improved by using a more stimulating massage. With regard to the lymphatic system massage may help to reduce swellings caused by a build up of fluid in the cells, often found in the ankles. The lymphatic system is known as the second circulatory system and massage may help to encourage the body to get rid of a build up of excess fluid by improving the circulation. The effects on the nervous system vary depending on the type of massage but may be either relaxing or stimulating and may help reduce pain by the release of endorphins.

Massage may help to improve the digestive system by increasing circulation which in turn increases peristalsis in the large intestine which encourages the elimination of waste. Massage may help with the symptoms of IBS, constipation and a build up of gas. Massage may also help to encourage an increase in urine production by releasing toxins and fluid into the blood with waste products being expelled in the urine. Homoeostasis of the body is controlled by the endocrine system and evidence shows that two hormones which help to improve mood, serotonin and dopamine, are increased to help release stress levels. This in turn may help the body to heal and develop a more restful sleep pattern and may encourage the hormones to return to a balanced state. Some symptoms of menstrual problems such a period pain, PMS and menopause may be helped with abdominal and back massage. People who are having trouble conceiving often become very stressed and anxious and massage may help relieve some of the symptoms of stress.

Mentally massage may help to reduce stress and anxiety and so promote relaxation and well-being, which in turn may help to improve emotions and ease the symptoms of depression. After a massage treatment people may feel energised and rejuvenated which may help to focus the mind and improve clarity of thought. Massage may also help with conditions such as insomnia. Overall a person may feel happier and healthier which in turn may help to boost their confidence and optimism.

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