The History of Massage

Have you ever wondered about the history of massage? As a beauty therapist, it’s important to know where the techniques you’re learning come from. It helps that the foundations of the art of massage therapy are pretty fascinating, dating back as far as 5,000 years ago! Since then, it has developed and has been hailed for its healing properties, with generations of people using it to cure illness, ease pain and heal injuries.

Our infographic explores the full history of massage and how it has evolved around the world. Take a look, and skip to the end for the text version.

Want to become a masseuse? Take a look at our online massage course

Massage Infographic

A Timeline of Massage

2700 BCE – China

The idea of massage travelled to China around 2700 BCE. Their methods developed as a combination of skills and practices of traditional Chinese medicine, as well as martial arts and the spiritual yoga training of Buddhists and Taoists.


2500 BCE – Egypt

Depicted in tomb paintings, Egyptians combined what they had learnt about massage with their own bodywork techniques. They are also credited with developing reflexology to help with healing.


1000 BCE – Japan

Monks studying Buddhism in China brought massage therapy back to Japan. They developed their own form of massage – Shiatsu. This involved stimulating pressure points to build natural resistance to illnesses.


800 BCE – Greece

Athletes used massage to condition their bodies before competitions. As well as this, doctors often applied herbs and oils in combination with massage to treat various medical conditions.


1st Century BCE – Rome

In the 1st Century BCE, Roman physician Galen used massage therapy to treat the illnesses and injuries of emperors. Wealthy Romans would also have massages in their homes to loosen joints and improve circulation.


The popularity of massage lessened in the West after this point, until…

1900s – Sweden

A well known gymnastics teacher and doctor, Per Henrik Ling, developed the Swedish Movement Cure to help relieve chronic back pain. This was the beginning of what we now know as Swedish massage.

1850s – America

“Medical Gymnasts” used the methods of manipulation and movement that Link developed. They went through comprehensive training across all areas, including anatomy, hygiene, pathology and more.

Late 1800s

  1. The terms “masseur” and “masseuse” became popular names to describe massage therapists
  2. Massage was used alongside hydrotherapy – marking the beginning of spa services which are popular today
  3. Full-body massages became part of a cure for ‘melancholy’ which was common amongst wealthy ladies

1900s to Now

1930s – Swedish massage had evolved by now, and massage therapy was becoming a respected, legitimate form of medicine

1950s – Physical therapy became licensed in the 1950s, and massage therapy associations were formed

Now – Massage therapy has been transformed as people have started to choose to live healthier lifestyles and choose more holistic approaches to pain management and health care.