Various forms of therapeutic superficial tissue manipulation have been practiced for thousands of years across cultures. Chinese use of massage dates to 1600 BC, and Hippocrates made reference to the importance of physicians being experienced with "rubbing" as early as 400 BC. There are references to massage in ancient records of the Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Egyptian, Indian, Greek, and Roman nations. References to massage are also found in the Bible and the Vedas. Terms for massage include the French word masser, the Greek word for "knead," a Hindu word for "press," and an Aramaic word that means "to press softly."
Massage spread throughout Europe during the Renaissance. The technique that is currently called Swedish massage was developed in the 19th Century by Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839) as a combined form of massage and gymnastic exercises. George and Charles Taylor, two physicians who had studied in Sweden, introduced massage therapy to the United States in the 1850s. In 1873, the term massage entered the Anglo-American medical lexicon. By the early 1930s, massage became a less prominent part of American medicine, and was displaced by a focus on the biological sciences. Interest resurged in the 1970s, particularly in athletes and as a complementary therapy to promote well-being, relaxation, pain-reduction, stress-relief, musculoskeletal injury healing, sleep enhancement, and quality of life. A common goal of therapy is to "help the body heal itself."
Touch is fundamental to massage therapy and is used by therapists to locate painful or tense areas, to determine how much pressure to apply, and to establish a therapeutic relationship with clients. The term "toxic touch" refers to techniques with detrimental effects.
Many different therapeutic techniques can be classified as massage therapy. Most involve the application of fixed or moving pressure or manipulation of the muscles/connective tissues of clients. Practitioners may use their hands or other areas such as forearms, elbows, or feet. Lubricants may be added to aid the smoothness of massage strokes.
Techniques used in Swedish massage include (1) superficial stroking in a direction away from the heart or deep stroking towards the heart; (2) kneading in a circular pattern using fingers and thumbs; (3) deep muscle stimulation; (4) rhythmic movements such as slapping or tapping; and (5) vibration.
Sports massage is similar to Swedish massage but is adapted specifically for athletes. Deep tissue massage uses slow strokes, friction, and direct pressure across muscles with fingers, thumbs, or elbows, often with the goal to improve chronic muscular tension. Esalen massage focuses on generating a deep state of relaxation and is often combined with other forms of massage. Neuromuscular massage, triggerpoint massage, and myotherapy are forms of deep massage administered to specific muscles or nerve points, used to release trigger points or entrapped nerves, and to relieve pain.
Shiatsu involves the rhythmic application of pressure to points along the body's median. Reflexology aims to return the body to its natural balance by targeting certain areas on the feet (or ears) believed to correspond with specific body parts or organs. Aromatherapy massage uses essential oils with the goal to enhance healing and relaxation. Craniosacral therapists strive to locate and realign imbalances or blockages that are felt to exist in the soft tissues or fluids of the sacrum, head and spine. Myofascial release involves gentle traction, pressure and body positioning to relax and stretch soft tissues. Manual lymph drainage uses light, rhythmic strokes with the goal to improve lymphatic flow and reduce edema, inflammation, or neuropathy. On-site/chair massage is administered to the upper body of fully clothed clients. Tibetan massage may be performed on any of several areas of the body, based on the judgment of the practitioner regarding the patient's energy flow (for example, head, neck, vertebra, abdomen, legs).
Classical massage aims to provide calmness, relaxation, encourage self-healing and revitalization. St. John's neuromuscular technique may be used for chronic pain conditions that involve the musculoskeletal system. Polarity treatment is based on the concept that rebalancing the body's energy fields with gentle massage can improve health and well-being. Rolfing® involves deep tissue massage aimed at relieving stress as well as improving mobility, posture, balance, muscle function/efficiency, energy, and overall well-being. Jin Shin Do involves finger pressure to acupoints of the body towards releasing muscular tension or stress. Bindegewebsmassage focuses on connective tissues between the skin and muscles and is based on the theory that some ailments are caused by imbalances in these tissues. The Trager approach involves relearning patterns of movement towards improved efficiency and well-being. Many other variations and styles of massage or touch exist, often developed in specific geographic regions.
Scientific research of massage is limited, and existing studies use a variety of techniques and trial designs. Firm evidence-based conclusions about the effectiveness of massage cannot be drawn at this time for any health condition.
Abdominal massage, abdominal meridian massage, acupressure, acupuncture massage, Alexander technique, aromatherapy massage, Aston patterning, augmented soft-tissue mobilization, automated massage chair, beat massage, body therapies, classical massage, deep-tissue massage, effleurage massage, Feldenkrais technique, Flexitouch, generic massage, foot reflexion massage, hand massage, Hellerwork, hot stone massage, ice massage, infant massage, Jin Shin Do, manual lymph drainage, Marma massage therapy, myotherapy, neuromuscular massage, oil massage, on-site chair massage, perineal massage, polarity treatment, prostatic massage, reflex zone massage, reflexology, Reiki, Rolfing®, roll-stretch massage, Rosen method, shiatsu, sports massage, St. John's neuromuscular technique, strain-counterstrain techniques, Swedish massage, Tibetan massage, touch, Trager technique, triggerpoint massage, Tuina, Zone therapy.
This review primarily focuses on the scientific evidence for Swedish massage.