About Massage Therapy

An overview of the benefits and varieties of this ancient healing method

Massage therapy is among the world's oldest healing practices. It exists today in dozens of forms, from traditional deep-tissue massage to newer techniques that incorporate yoga and dance. All massage therapy generally uses manipulation of your body's soft tissues as a means to curb stress, fatigue and/or pain, and to promote healthy circulation.

Massage therapy: a brief history

The earliest known records of massage date back to 3000 BC, in ancient China. Reflexology, a form of massage stimulating pressure points in the hands, feet and ears, was invented by Egyptians around 500 years later.

Mentions of massage also crop up in the writings of ancient Greeks. Hippocrates, often called "the father of medicine," advocated a version of massage for treating issues with joints and circulation. By 200 AD, the Chinese had established massage schools. It took several hundred years for massage therapy to catch on in the West. In the U.S., massage didn't become widespread until the mid-1800s.


Medical research has shown massage therapy to provide a range of benefits. It can help alleviate anxiety and depression, relieve pain resulting from musculoskeletal injuries and temporarily bring down heart rate and blood pressure.

Aside from these benefits, some patients report that massage helps reduce cancer pain, stimulates their immune systems and improves symptoms of cerebral palsy and HIV.


Types of massage range from gentle techniques designed to relieve stress to rigorous styles developed for athletes. Major variations include:

  • Acupressure: Application of pressure to specific points on the body.
  • Ayurvedic Massage: Massage combined with various herbal oils thought to provide health benefits.
  • Deep Tissue Massage: Designed to manipulate muscles beneath the surface layer.
  • Shiatsu: Similar to acupressure, but also involves stretching and other bodywork techniques.
  • Stone Massage: Incorporates hot or cold stones that rest on various points of the body.
  • Swedish Massage: Incorporates five basic motions: kneading, gliding, tapping, shaking and friction.
  • Thai Massage: A blend of acupressure massage and yoga positions.

Other massage types include watsu, amma, Balinese, barefoot deep tissue, Easlen, Hoffman and Raynor.


Massage isn't recommended for people with certain medical conditions, including bleeding disorders, osteoporosis and deep-vein thrombosis. Make sure to speak to your doctor before beginning a massage regimen.

Becoming a massage therapist

If you're thinking of getting your massage therapist certification, you'll want to enroll in massage therapy classes. Most programs take less than a year, and offer up to 1,000 hours of training. Massage therapy review courses are also available for certified therapists who want to brush up on their techniques or learn new skills.

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