Massage is the manipulation of soft tissues in the body. Massage techniques are commonly applied with hands, fingers, elbows, knees, forearms, feet, or a device. The purpose of massage is generally for the treatment of body stress or pain. A person who was professionally trained to give massages was traditionally known as a masseur (male) or a masseuse (female), but those titles are outmoded, and carry some negative connotations. Now the title massage therapist has been recognized as a business norm for those who have been professionally trained to give massages.

In professional settings, clients are treated while lying on a massage table, sitting in a massage chair, or lying on a mat on the floor. In amateur settings, a general-purpose surface like a bed or the floor is more common. Aquatic massage and bodywork are performed with recipients submersed or floating in a warm-water therapy pool. 

Ancient and medieval times

Archaeological evidence of massage has been found in many ancient civilizations including China, India, Japan, Korea, Egypt, Rome, Greece, and Mesopotamia (a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in modern days roughly corresponding to most of Iraq, Kuwait, parts of Northern Saudi Arabia, the eastern parts of Syria, South-eastern Turkey, and regions along the Turkish–Syrian and Iran–Iraq borders).

Approx. BC 2700

During 722-481 BC a compilation of medical knowledge known up to that date from "The Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon", the text refers to previous medical knowledge from the time of the Yellow Emperor (approx. 2700 BC), and is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Massage is referred to in 30 different chapters of the Nei Jing. It specifies the use of different massage techniques and how they should be used in the treatment of specific ailments, and injuries.

BC 2330

The Tomb of Akmanthor (also known as "The Tomb of the Physician") in Saqqara, Egypt depicts two men having work done on their feet and hands, presumably massage.

BC 762

In the Iliad and the Odyssey (the oldest recordings of Greek literature) the massage with oils and aromatic substances is mentioned as a means to relax the tired limbs of warriors and a way to help the treatment of wounds.

BC 500

Jīvaka Kumārabhṛta was the personal physician of the Buddha and the Indian King Bimbisāra. He lived in Rājagṛha, present-day Rajgir, in the 6th–5th century BC. Sometimes described as the "Medicine King" (pinyin: yi wang), he figures prominently in legendary accounts in Asia as a model healer, and is honoured as such by traditional healers in several Asian countries and was the founder of Traditional Thai massage. He codified a healing system that combines acupressure, reflexology, and assisted yoga postures. Jivaka is known today as "Father Doctor" in Thailand.

BC 460

Hippocrates wrote "The physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing".

BC 401 - 310

Bian Que who died in 310 BC (aged 91) was, according to legend, the earliest known Chinese physician. His real name is said to be Qin Yueren, but his medical skills were so amazing that the people gave him the same name as the legendary doctor Bian Que, from the time of the Yellow Emperor. He was a native of the State of Qi.

BC 300

Sanskrit records indicate that massage had been practiced in India long before the beginning of recorded history.

AD 581

Dr Sun Si Miao (a famous traditional Chinese medicine doctor of the Sui and Tang dynasty) introduces ten new massage techniques and systematized the treatment of childhood diseases using massage therapy. China establishes a department of massage therapy within the Office of Imperial Physicians.

AD 710 to 794

Shiatsu a traditional Japanese massage was brought to Japan from China. It was practised, for some time, solely by the blind to create employment for them. Ampuku developed using Shiatsu principles with a salt pack for the Hara (abdominal area) in their traditional healing techniques to encourage vitality and circulation.  This treatment was used by the Samurai to make them more centered and powerful.

AD 980 to 1037

One of the greatest Persian medics was Avicenna, also known as Ibn Sina, does a comprehensive collection and systematisation of the fragmentary and unorganised Greco-Roman medical literature. One of his books, ‘The Canon of Medicine’ has been called the most famous single book in the history of medicine in both East and West. Avicenna excelled in the logical assessment of conditions and comparison of symptoms and took special note of analgesics and their proper use as well as other methods of relieving pain, including massage.

AD 1150

Evidence of massage abortion, involving the application of pressure to the pregnant abdomen, can be found decorated on the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It depicts a demon performing such an abortion upon a woman who has been sent to the underworld. This is the oldest known visual representation of abortion.

AD 1776

Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, and Pierre-Martial Cibot, French missionaries in China translate summaries of Huangdi Neijing, including a list of medical plants, exercises and elaborate massage techniques, into the French language, thereby introducing Europe to the highly developed Chinese system of medicine, medical-gymnastics, and medical-massage.

AD 1776

Pehr Henrik Ling, a Swedish physical therapist, and teacher of medical-gymnastics is born. Ling has often been erroneously credited for having invented ‘Swedish Massage’, and has been called the ‘Father of Massage’.

AD 1878

Dutch massage practitioner Johan Georg Mezger applies French terms to name five basic massage techniques, and coins the phrase "Swedish massage system". These techniques are still known by their French names (effleurage (long, gliding strokes), petrissage (lifting and kneading the muscles), friction (firm, deep, circular rubbing movements), tapotement (brisk tapping or percussive movements), and vibration (rapidly shaking or vibrating specific muscles)).

AD 1925

During the 20th century Shiatsu distinguished itself from other massage by it’s merging with the western knowledge of anatomy, Ampuku (Japanese abdominal massage), acupressure, and Do-In techniques. Do-In exercises are techniques to stretch the meridians as well as breathing techniques, which can be practiced independently.

Tamai Tempaku first used the term Shiatsu with the attempt to provide some scientific relevance and to distinguish Shiatsu from other oriental therapies. One of his students was Tokujiro Namikoshi who was also trained in western medicine and who developed his own style of Shiatsu founded the first Shiatsu school in Japan. Today the Namikoshi style is Japan’s most widely practised shiatsu style. Namikoshi Shiatsu has more of a scientific approach than other Shiatsu styles and is more focussed on the stimulation of acupressure points as opposed to stretching and joint manipulation. Due to Namikoshi’s influence, Shiatsu was officially recognised as a therapy by the Japanese Government in 1964.

AD 1970

Shizuto Masunaga, the son of a teacher at Namikoshi’s School for Shiatsu, developed what is now known as Zen Shiatsu. Masunaga was a professor of psychology at Tokyo University. In the 1970’s he combined his understanding of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and psychology with conventional Shiatsu (Namikoshi style) and brought Zen Shiatsu to the United States.

Since Masunaga brought Shiatsu to the west, several different Shiatsu styles have developed and are being practised around the world. Some of the Shiatsu styles today are barefoot (macrobiotic) Shiatsu, Namikoshi Shiatsu (or Nippon Shiatsu), Zen Shiatsu, Ohashiatsu, Quantum Shiatsu, Tao Shiatsu, Tsubo Therapy, Watsu (Shiatsu in the water), Shiatsu-Do and Ampuku (abdominal Shiatsu).

AD 1985 – present

David Clark studies shiatsu at the British School of Shiatsu founded by Ray Ridolfi. David went on to establish the New Zealand School of Shiatsu and now specializes in Ampuku treatment and the Kidney Ginger Compress.

There are now many popular Massage Therapy Types available including;

Sports Massage, Reflexology, Swedish, Thai Massage, Aromatherapy Massage, Shiatsu, Ampuku, Pregnancy Massage (pre-natal massage), Neuromuscular Therapy, Rolfing (Deep Muscle or Connective Tissue Massage), Hellerwork, Hydrotherapy, Infant Massage, Lomilomi Hawaiian, Myofascial Release, Myofascial Release for Fibromyalgia and Reiki.