What is massage therapy? What is massage history and where did massage therapy begin? Massage therapy is the science and art of using a variety of techniques and manual manipulations to soothe the body. Evidence of this unique type of treatment has been found in the history of civilizations across the globe. Today, massage therapy stands as one of the most effective ways for a modern professional to physically cope and mentally cope in a high-pressure society.

But, how did all this begin? Massage Lee’s Summit is here to give a full massage history briefing. In the following article, we will take a look at how the concepts, practices, and techniques of massage therapy have evolved over thousands of years of human evolution.

Massage History – Starting From the Very Beginning

Prehistoric Origins

Despite extensive evidence of massage therapy playing a role in early civilizations, it is very hard for experts to speculate on where this all began. It is quite likely that the very massage therapy practice predated human history and may have begun with any of our anthropoid ancestors. 

There are examples of tactical contact playing a role in interactions across the animal kingdom. We see nuzzling, necking, caressing, preening, and other methods of tactical exchange in animals of all types. It could be that human hands are simply the best tools for applying this deeply effective form of social grooming. 

Ayurvedic Tradition

The very first recordings of massage therapy as part of a treatment practice are found in Ayurvedic traditions that began about 3000 BCE. Massage history began with a very similar intention to how it is practiced today. Holistic medicine under Ayurvedic tradition is believed to have its roots in divine knowledge and massage. Massage techniques were part of a sacred healing process that included healthy foods, sound therapy, and even aromatherapy. 

The underlying concepts of Ayurvedic medicine hold true today. It was understood that the body can’t “be healed”. Rather, healing can be facilitated in a large number of ways. For example, a healthy diet, healthy living, and massage therapy were believed to promote this healing process. The whole-body approach to good health is an important foundation principle for holistic therapies today. 

ayurvedia massage therapy history

Ancient Egypt and Massage History

At roughly the same time that Ayurvedic treatment was recording the very first treatise on massage therapy, a similar form of massage practice was being developed and applied in Ancient Egypt. 

Tomb paintings in ancient Egypt clearly indicate a kneading and manipulation of soft body tissues. Furthermore, the first evidence of reflexology or pressure point massage is believed to have originated in Egypt around this time as well. This type of massage therapy applies pressure to specific points in the body. The pressure relieved in the important nodes connects to other parts of the body to improve wellness. 

massage therapy in ancient egypt

Massage History in China and Japan

Medical texts outlining the benefits of massage are also found in ancient China and date back to 2500 BCE. The wealth of information gathered on Chinese massage therapy is the culmination of research and study from martial artists, TCM practitioners, and early physiologists. Buddhist and Taoist tradition also regards the human touch as sacred and massage therapy was a practice offered for relaxation. 

Buddhist Monks from Japan returned from studying Buddhism in China with extensive knowledge of the secrets of massage therapy. Soon the Japanese were developing their own traditional massage practices called “anma” from which the modern massage style Shiatsu was born. 

Shiatsu involves targeting specific pressure points along the body with the fingers, hands, thumbs, and sometimes elbows. The goal is to improve the flows of energy throughout the body to improve organ function and improve natural resistance to illness.

Classical Greece

The history of massage is found around the entire globe including Greece and, from there, Rome. It was not just silk and spices that moved along the Silk Road from ancient China to the nations of the west. Philosophers and practitioners of healing practices soon brought their treatment options to Europe where they were warmly received. In addition to massage therapy, a wide range of essential oils from the spices of the east were introduced to European peoples in the early 8th century BCE. 

Hippocrates of Kos, the famous 5th-century physician from Classical Greece, described the use of body heat and friction for treating a variety of injuries. He detailed instructions for techniques of “rubbing” the body to improve its capacity to regenerate and heal. The lifestyle plan that Hippocrates prescribed involved healthy food, good exercise, massage therapy, and music. Hippocrates also shared many key points with Ayurvedic medicine from a few millennia prior to his time. 

Rome and Massage Therapy History

Among the considerable amount of culture absorbed from the Greeks by the Romans, massage therapy was passed along to the Roman Empire sometime in the first century BC. Claudius Galen, a famous Greek physician that served Rome in the first century CE, was a great proponent of Hippocrates’ guide for healthy living and suggested that massage therapy as an integral part of maintaining the body and promoting wellness.  

Throughout the Roman Empire, bathhouses provided the comfort of grooming and good health in many major Roman cities. Here the very wealthy could be treated by educated physicians and therapists trained in massage practice techniques. Massages were typically applied with oils that improved the conditions of the skin. 

Modern Massage Practices


In early 1800, a Swedish physician Per Henrik Ling wrote the Swedish Gymnastic Movement System, which showed how massage practice can be used to improve physiology and improve performance. The techniques he described include pressing, pinching, stroking and kneading the flesh to treat various issues and conditions. 


Until the first half of the 1900s, massage therapy was regarded as a luxury treatment enjoyed only by the very wealthy. After the Second World War, massage practices were commonly used to treat soldiers suffering from shell-shock. This greatly increased the popularity of this form of treatment and led to another period where massage was associated with the sex traded and underwent some considerable unpopularity.

But, towards the end of the 20th century, massage therapy has once again gained a great deal of interest across the globe as more and more people seek holistic forms of treatment to gain better health. The negative stigma surrounding this important part of essential health is decreasing as time goes on. By taking a look at massage history, you can see how far the essential health practice has come. 

where massage therapy is today

Where Massage Therapy is Today

Modern massage therapists rely on a great wealth of understanding and extensive perspectives from across the globe to enhance the value and efficacy of the service provided. Medical science has done much to reveal the special power of massage therapy to improve immunological function and boost health. The ultimate goal of massage therapy today is to improve health and physical condition while soothing the mind and body. Schedule an appointment today with Massage Lee’s Summit, the premier massage therapy spa in the area.