What Is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy is one of the oldest known healing arts. Chinese records show that it dates back 3,000 years, while the ancient Hindus, Persians and Egyptians also applied forms of massage for many disorders. Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician who is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine, wrote papers recommending the benefits of massage and the friction of movement for joint and circulatory problems.

Today, massage is still a valuable practice that continues to relieve many aliments. As an accepted part of many physical rehabilitation programs, massage therapy has also proven beneficial for chronic conditions such as low back pain, arthritis, diabetes and depression. Massage helps relieve the stress and tension of everyday working and living that can lead to disease and illness.

Every day, more traditional health care professionals throughout the world recognize that therapeutic massage can play an important role in treating illness and chronic ailments. Physicians, chiropractors and physiotherapists are recommending that more patients receive massages for certain health conditions, while many employers and health insurance plans support the use of registered massage therapists.

What Do Massage Therapists Do?

Massage, bodywork and somatic therapies are defined as the application of soft-tissue manipulation techniques to the human body, generally intended to reduce stress and fatigue and treat painful ailments while improving circulation. There are many variations of massage that a therapist may need to learn, including:

  • Swedish massage
  • aroma therapy massage
  • hot stone massage
  • shiatsu
  • deep tissue massage
  • Thai massage
  • reflexology
  • acupressure
  • neuromuscular massage

There are also massages targeted at specific clients; for instance:

  • sports massage (athletes)
  • prenatal massage (pregnant women)
  • oncology massage (cancer patients)
  • animal massage (animals)

Each type of massage requires a different technique. Massage therapists usually specialize in several styles in order to maximize their customer base. They consult with clients before appointments in order to determine the most appropriate style

Two-thirds of massage therapists are self-employed. Others work in doctors’ offices and nursing homes, hotels and resorts, salons and spas and fitness centers. The environment in which massage therapists work varies depending on where they work — from spas to private homes to public offices and shopping centers — but the nature of the job involves a great deal of hand and arm movement that could cause physical strain if not handled properly.