History of Swedish Massage
In Europe, massage starts back within the mists of time. From the start of the ones who wrote about it, it’s entwined with hygiene, exercise, and physical training.
Celsus, Hippocrates, and Galen, of ancient Rome and Greece, all wrote on it. However, the fall of the Roman Empire brought along with it the destruction of its bathhouses and fall of hygiene as health care’s centerpiece.
As happened to a lot of the classical know-how, the Dark Ages marked an age in which bodywork went out of documented history and church dominated scientific preferences of that era. A few religious orders sustained the old spas as healing centers for the dying and sick, and scholars within the Muslim world developed and preserved this knowledge until its ‘rediscovery’ within the Renaissance. In the meantime there included a centuries old tradition all throughout Europe of midwives, herbal healers, and bonesetters who made little mark within written history except as they were burned at the stake as witches within the Inquisition.
By the 16th century, written works from various European countries, which included Italy, England, Germany, and France were advising ‘mechanical treatment’. For instance, the Italian doctor Hieronymus Mercurialis (from 1530 to 1606) who published The Art of Gymnastics Among the Ancients (De arte Gymnastica Apud Ancientes), the French doctor Ambroise Pare (from 1510 to 1590), considered a Father of Surgery, who utilized frictions within post-surgical recovery, as well as English doctor Timothy Bright (from 1550 to 1615) whose recordings discussed massage, exercise, and baths, and who included the initial one to present to England the word ‘spa’.
By the Eighteenth century, gymnastics systems were being developed in France and Germany. Joseph-Clément Tissot’s (1780) Gymnastique Medicinale et Chirurgicale provided signs of the usage of friction (massage). The book Gymnastics for Youth (Gymnastik für die Jugend) from 1793 by Johann Friedrich GutsMuths (from 1759 to 1839) includes the initial book of ‘modern’ gymnastics, and in 1816 is followed up by German Gymnastics (Die Deutsche Turnkunst) by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (from 1778 to 1852).
From 1776 to 1839, Sweden’s Per Henrik Ling studied at the gymnasium of Franz Nachtegall, one of GutsMuths’ disciples, in Copenhagen for 5 years and brought the concepts he studied back to his native country, yet changed the concentration from creating muscular strength to the body’s harmonious development. Besides active movements, his strategy involved passive movements: stemming, spanning, balancing, holding, Russian swinging, rocking, pendulum, perpherical, pressing, swinging, ligature, squeezing, ligature, tapping, knocking, chopping, clapping, kneading, sawing, frictions, stroking, walking, and standing. Ling held a degree within divinity and was not a doctor, but a fencing master. There is an apocryphal tale occasionally encountered upon acupuncture sites and Ling’s wikipedia entry that he befriended a tuina practitioner and martial artist in China when he was abroad. If this is factual, ‘Swedish Massage’ might be amongst the first ‘global fusion’ massage styles.
Mechanotherapy (massage, manipulation, and exercises) makes its original appearance in print within the Netherlands about 1840, referred to variously as Swedish gymnastics, medical gymnastics, kinesitherapy, Nordic gymnastics, or orthopaedic gymnastics. Johan George Mezger, a Dutch doctor from 1838 to 1909 worked with a Dutch orthopedist who had traveled abroad in order to research medical gymnastics and played a part as a ‘domestic physical education teacher’ prior to attending medical school. His Swedish massage history contribution was to decrease the number of passive movements of Ling’s strategy into four simple strokes and provide them the French names that are still utilized today: tapotement, friction, petrissage, and effleurage. (The 5th stroke, vibration, was later added by practitioners.) Ling treated a multitude of patients from the 1870s to the 1880s within his flourishing practice inside Amsterdam’s Amstel Hotel, and received credit from multiple authors for bringing massage back toward the attention of the medical field within the Nineteenth century.
From the latter part of 19th century through around WWI, a good amount of doctors wrote articles and books on Medical Gymnastics/ Massage/Mechanotherapy/Swedish Movement Cure. Massage was extensively used in sanitariums and was taught to nurses. The original professional organizations were established. However, shortly after WWII, massage largely had been dropped from medicine and its status returned to how it survived in the Dark Ages – as an alternative form of health practice.