Modern day massage therapy comes from ancient customs and techniques rooted in history. For centuries, the natural healing benefits of massage have been used by both western and eastern civilizations to heal injuries and relieve pain.

However, Cultural shifts (particularly in the west) at one time affected how society viewed massage, classifying it as an unnecessary indulgence. In the world we know today, however, massage therapy is considered a highly respected form of holistic healing.

While the facts are still out on whether cavemen used massage to relieve soreness from having to outrun all those sabretooth tigers, some of the earliest forms of massage are said to have come from India and the first documentation of massage has been found in ancient Egypt and China.

For our love of massage and your educational benefit, we have compiled an EXTREMELY condensed timeline of the use of massage over the last 5000 years, enjoy.

Egypt, 2330 BC:

The Tomb of the Physician depicts two men having work done on their hands and feet which looks like massage (but who knows, maybe there were ancient estheticians too).


China, 722 TO 481 BC:

All medical knowledge known up until that point is compiled into a book called the Huangi Neijing, which refers to massage in 20 separate chapters. Specifically, the use of different massage techniques to cure certain injuries and illnesses are referenced and Chinese physicians begin to use it in their medical practices.

  • Japanese monks studying Buddhism in China observed the methods of Chinese medicine. This including massage therapy, and the Japanese brought the practices to Japan, eventually developing Shiatsu.

history of massage therapy

Thailand, 500 BC:

The founder of Traditional Thai massage and Thai medicine (and supposedly Buddha’s physician), Jīvaka Komarabhācca, codified a healing system based on a combination of Indian and Chinese traditions of medicine.

Greece, 460 BC:

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

  • Athletes in Ancient Greece utilized massage to keep their bodies in tip-top shape for all those naked races they had. Physicians used a combination of herbs and oils with massage techniques to treat many conditions.


Rome, 100 AD:

Galen, a physician to many emperors, began using massage therapy to treat different types of physical injuries and disease. Following Hippocrates’ ideas, Galen believed in exercise, healthy diet, rest, and massage as integral pieces to restoring and maintaining the body.

history of massage therapy

Spain, 1027 AD:

One of the greatest Persian medics, Avicenna (also known as Ibn Sina), published a comprehensive collection of Greco-Roman medical literature called The Canon of Medicine, one of most famous medical books in both Eastern and Western history. Avicenna was a rock star at assessing conditions and comparing symptoms, noting that massage is an excellent way to treat a whole slew of issues.

Europe, during the Middle Ages:

Medical knowledge, including massage, made its way from Rome to Persia. Many of Galen’s scripts were collected and translated in the 9th Century. In the 11th century copies were translated back into Latin, and in the 15th and 16th centuries helped to enlighten European scholars with the achievements of the Ancient Greeks. This use of the Galenic tradition during the Renaissance played a tremendous role in the rise of modern science.

1776 AD:

Two French Missionaries in China, Jean Joseph Marie Amiot  and Pierre-Martial Cibot (try saying those names three times fast), translate summaries of Huangdi Neijing, including a list of exercises and elaborate massage techniques into the French language, introducing  Europe to the highly developed Chinese system of medicine, medical-gymnastics, and medical-massage.

1779 AD:

Cibot publishes a French language summary of medical techniques used by Taoist priests. This work has long been regarded as huge importance in the history of physiotherapy.

1813 AD:

The Royal Gymnastic Central Institute for the training of gymnastic instructors was opened in Stockholm, Sweden, with Pehr Henrik Ling appointed as principal. Ling developing the “Swedish Movement Cure.” Ling has often been credited for having invented the “Swedish Massage.”

Through the early part of the 20th century, an increasing number of new and rediscovered massage techniques were documented and practiced. In particular, massage was used to treat World War I patients who suffered from nerve injury or shell shock.

While massage was used to treat WWI patient who suffered injury it mostly remained out of the mainstream as a form of treatment for many years. During this time, massage was thought of as a wealthy person’s luxury rather part of a healthy lifestyle or healing. There is no denying that the reputation of massage has endured a lot, especially when “massage parlors” became closely associated to the sex trade.

However, in the second half of the 20th century, the interest surrounding natural healing methods began to rise, revitalizing the practice of massage. As a result, massage earned a place as a legitimate form of alternative medicine for disease prevention and maintaining wellness.

Today, registered massage therapists like the ones at That Great Massage practice a multitude of techniques originating from ancient methods with the goal remaining to be helping clients experience a higher quality of life through healing their emotional and physical well-being.