Western Massage Therapy

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Western Massage Therapy has been around since the early Greeks and Romans. A recognized system of Western therapeutic massage, however, only came into existence in the 1800s. Compared to Oriental or Asian Massage Therapy, the history of Western Massage is brief. Yet, like Asian Massage, history is still evolving.
Western Massage began with the work of a Swedish professor and physiologist in the early 1800s. Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839) from Stockholm took much from his travels to other parts of the world. He combines it with the Western perception and understanding of the human body. Out of this arose Swedish Massage.
Swedish Massage or Swedish Massage Therapy consists of 5 different kinds of strokes. The system utilizes French nomenclature. The addition of oil to the body creates a soothing blend of different hand techniques. Ling was the first to create a Western system of therapeutic massage.
In Europe and North America, other people took time to introduce and spread this initial type of massage. Dr. Johann Georg Mezger (1834-1901) of Holland helped establish formal recognition with the founding of the Society of Trained Masseuses. This eventually led to the formation of other bodies in Canada, the United States and Europe. These include local, state and national bodies. Many, such as the Association of Physiotherapists and Massage Practitioners of British Columbia date from the early 1900s.
In the United States, two men, Dr. John Henry Kellog (1852-1943) and his brother Will (1860-1951) promoted Swedish Massage in the last years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th. In fact, Massage, Swedish Massage worked as an integral part of conventional medicine between 1880 and 193o. This was the Golden Age of Massage. It did not last long.
By World War II, interest in massage had declined. Although used in some forms of medical relief, massage was no longer an integral part of conventional medicine. Technological and chemical advances had reduced massage to a sensual and sometimes shady art. It was to remain in this state until the 1960s.
The 1960s saw the emergence of a new philosophical approach in Western Society. It also saw the start of a movement towards a more humanized and “natural” approach to medical treatments. This has increased over the decades since then. The result has not only been a shift in thinking among medical professionals, but the inclusion of Swedish Massage and related types of therapeutic massage as part of a system of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).
During the process, Western Massage Therapy has altered. Swedish Massage has spawned several variations. These include Rolfing, Deep Tissue Massage, Esalen Massage, Hellerwork and Sports Massage. Western Massage Therapy has also taken basic western massage techniques and combined them with several Asian techniques and/or philosophies to create hybrids. Massage Therapy Training, now available in many colleges and institutes, offers instruction in the various schools of Massage Therapy including Swedish Massage and its “children.”
Deep Tissue Massage reaches into deeper layers of tissue than Swedish Massage. It focuses on more specific areas than Swedish Massage which tends to work the entire body. A practitioner implementing Deep Tissue Massage uses slow and strong strokes. He or she works against the grain of the muscle or follows the flow of the contours of the muscles, fascia or tendons. Deep Tissue Massage Therapy works to relieve lower back pain and loosen tight muscles.
Esalen or Essalen Swedish Massage is a direct outgrowth of Swedish Massage. It is a product of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. It combines Swedish Massage with acupressure. Its approach is more Asian philosophy than Western. The intent of Esalen Massage is to relax the mind and the body to produce an overall sense of well-being. It does so through slow, rhythmic and even hypnotic strokes. These combine with rocking and stretching movements.
Rolfing, on the other hand, remains true to Western concepts of technique and philosophical approach. It focuses on the fascia or connecting tissue. Various manipulative moves act to stretch the fascia and realign the body. This method is the product of Ida Rolf (1896-1979) in the 1960s.
Rolfing is deep tissue work. It may be painful. The practitioner uses elbows, knuckles, fingers and hands to achieve the necessary results. Ida taught at the Esalen each summer.
Hellerwork is the 1970s creation of Joseph Heller an aerospace engineer for Nasa. It grew out of Rolfing. It combines deep-tissue massage with counseling for the emotional well-being of the client and movement. It is as much about educating the client about their body as giving them a massage. It has its followers, but not as many as another Swedish Massage prodigy, Sports Massage Therapy.
Of all the types of Western Massage, Sports Massage remains truest to Western form. Sports Massage focuses on a specific body part with intent. It is purely physical. It is also tailored to an athlete’s sport. The intent is to multifold – to help prevent an accident or injury, to minimalize any problems and to facilitate healing. Sports Massage Therapy requires three massages: pre-event, inter-event and post-event.
There are, as noted above many newer Western massage therapy schools combining Western ideas with Asian techniques or Asian philosophy with Western techniques. If you want to look at these, consider Aromatherapy. Therapeutic touch also has Western influences, as do some variations of Acupressure and Trigger Point Massage. It has become harder to find pure disciplines. This reflects the ongoing eclectic nature of society.

Posted by Andrew
on Feb 7 2011. Filed under Massage.
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