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Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

Evolution of Massage

Mar 07, 2011 08:41PM ● By Kim Childs

The ancient healing practice of massage therapy is playing an important role today in the emerging golden age of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Surprisingly, it remains comparatively underrepresented in U.S. medical school curricula, while Massage Today reports that “Insurance reimbursement for massage therapy is at an all-time high.”

From the time that Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, introduced the idea that a physician should be experienced in rubbing, massage therapy has moved in and out of the traditional medical models of various cultures. Current practitioners attribute its staying power to continued awareness of the inherent healing and therapeutic value of massage, now the leading form of bodywork in the United States, according to the American Massage Association.

Kneading, tapping and stroking, the common ancestors of the 100¬ plus techniques used by today’s massage therapists, have survived two evolutionary spirals, but acceptance of massage as a prominent healing tool has not followed an uninterrupted ascent.

Starting in 1800 B.C., when East Indian ayurvedic massage techniques were used to maintain mental health and prevent disease, the development of related healing modalities, such as Reiki, acupressure, Shiatsu, Canadian deep muscle massage, lomilomi and Swedish massage, generally gained in accep¬tance. When, in 1884, skeptical British physicians alleged that its practitioners were stealing patients, the Incorporated Society of Trained Masseuses formed to legitimize their approach. They set about creating regulations and establishing a clear practice model for physical rehabilitation; today the organization exists as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. Many of the techniques used by its members still reflect treatment practices invented prior to the society’s inception.

Since the 1970s, renewed interest in hands-on methods of manipulating muscles and other soft tissues has propelled the therapeutic use of touch into its latest upward growth spiral, freeing it from the gravitational pull of another bout of opposition from mainstream medicine in the early 1930s. Now on an accelerated course, massage again has the opportunity to assume a celebrated place in the annals of medicine, just as it did in 1936, when Dr. Thomas Lathrop Stedman included it as a “scientific method” among therapeutics in his Practical Medical Dictionary.

Eric Volkin is a licensed massage therapist in Arlington who says that very few of his clients come in solely for relaxation anymore. “About 90 percent of the people who come to see me are in for very specific issues that they want to have treated,” he reports. Common complaints include shoulder and neck pain or limitation, along with low-back and repetitive-stress injuries.

Volkin continually studies applied-massage techniques and works in partnership with osteopaths, chiropractors and orthopedic doctors, some of whom tell their patients to have a massage before visiting their offices. “I get referrals from conventional and alternative practitioners who acknowledge that the work I do is complementary to what they are doing,” says Volkin. “If I can prepare the [client’s] tissue to accept the [other practitioners’] treatments, it makes their job easier and gives them a better body to work with.”

In 2006, Massachusetts made massage a state-regulated industry, giving practitioners like Volkin more credibility and influence, he says. The Boston Medical Center’s Moakley Cancer Center offers massage to alleviate the depression, nausea, pain, fatigue and anxiety that cancer patients often suffer during treatment. Volkin, who practices oncology massage, says that the release of endorphins during a session does much to improve a patient’s well-being. “With massage, patients have the opportunity to receive nurturing touch that’s healing and non-judgmental,” he says. “It feels much better than getting poked and prodded with needles.”

While more research is needed to support specific health benefits of massage, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) continues to sponsor studies. The effort is to determine if and how the changes that occur in the body during massage influence health, and to identify the conditions for which massage may be most helpful.

Unwilling to wait for such statistical evidence, ever-growing numbers of American adults—18 million per a 2007 NCCAM study—have chosen to make use of massage. Their testimonials regularly attest to its therapeutic benefits and recognize its worth as an aid to general wellness—a positive sign that the current positive trend will continue.

For more information about Eric Volkin’s massage treatments, call 339-368-0375, email [email protected] visit