After the fall of the Roman Empire the love of physical beauty was frowned upon and the use of massage was suppressed, although the use of the baths was retained in Turkey and brought back to Europe.
Massage was kept alive in Western regions of Europe and became part of folk medicine, but practitioners were often persecuted by the Church who thought their healing powers came from the Devil.
During the Renaissance, the ancient knowledge of the Greeks and Romans was reintroduced to Europe, and with it came a renewed interest in massage as a medical treatment. The French surgeon, Ambrose Pare (1517-1590), who was the personal physician to four kings, promoted the use of massage. In the 18th and 19th centuries, massage grew in popularity in Europe under the influence of Per Henrik Ling, whose system of Swedish massage spread from Stockholm and could be found as far away as Russia, France, and the US.
A mixed reputation
At the end of the 19th century, massage was a popular medical treatment, performed by physicians and surgeons, but “houses of ill repute” also used the word “massage” as a cloak for their own activities. In London in 1894, eight professional women who were trained in the art of massage banded together to form the Society of Trained Masseurs. They were the founders of what is now known as the Chartered Society of physiotherapy.
During World War I, patients suffering from nerve injury or shell shock were treated with massage. In fact, St Thomas’ Hospital, in London, had a department of massage until 1934. However, when the pharmaceutical revolution arrived, massage was relegated to a back seat and its use was considered indulgent rather than therapeutic.
An all-around remedy
Today, massage has just about shaken off any dubious connotations to become one of the fastest growing complementary therapies. Its therapeutic benefits have been recognized by a new generation, wanting to find natural ways to achieve good health. Trained massage therapists now work in hospitals, hospices, psychiatric units, neurodisability centers, schools for children and adults with learning difficulties, special-care baby units, intensive-care units, old people’s homes, and complementary medicine centers. They may be attached to sports and dance centers, health clubs, and spas. Many massage therapists also run private practices.
The power of touch
The first sense to develop in the embryo is touch, and it is highly developed in even the youngest fetus. If you watch a baby on an ultrasound scan it very soon becomes apparent that the sense of touch is present. The skin develops from the same embryonic layer as the nervous system, and this has led one doctor to say: “It would improve our understanding of the skin if we think of it as the external nervous system.”
Interesting skin facts
The skin is the largest organ in the body and all forms of touch are perceived through it. Thousands of specialized receptors in the dermis react to external stimuli, such as heat, cold, and pressure, by sending messages through the nervous system to the brain. An area of skin the size of a coin contains over three million cells, 50 nerve endings, and 35 inches (90 cm) of blood vessels.
The sensitivity of touch receptors in different areas of skin can be measured by how far away two stimuli, for example pencil pricks, have to be before being felt as separate points. Middle of the back: 63 mm; forearm: 38 mm; palm of the hand: 13 mm; tip of the nose: 6 mm; fingertip: 2.5 mm; tip of the tongue 0.6 mm. This is why a tiny cut to the tongue seems to possess the dimensions of a canyon!
Massage or stroking triggers the release of endorphins, and induces a feeling of comfort and well-being. Endorphins also play an important role in pain relief. Stronger, more vigorous massage helps stretch tense muscles and ease stiff joints.
Massage aids relaxation, directly affecting the body systems that govern heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion. There is scientific evidence that shows that massage lowers the amount of stress hormones circulating in a body. In addition to making you feel better, reducing stress hormones is beneficial because their presence in high quantities can weaken your immune system.