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Massage in the 21st Century

The path of massage therapy has been long, with roots dating back thousands of years. However, the practice in Western culture and specifically in the United States is relatively young, with many miles left to evolve and transform the industry. To truly appreciate the journey of massage therapy, it’s important to take a step back in time to where massage began, as well as look ahead to where massage is going in the future of healing, relaxing and rejuvenating the American population.

Relaxation and Rejuvenation Have Ancient History

The art and science of healing with massage therapy has references in writings from China, Japan, India, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Hippocrates even wrote of the many advantages of rubbing techniques to bind and loosen joints, as well as defined medicine as “the art of rubbing."

While the popularity of massage has risen and fallen throughout the years, it is steadily increasing as a viable complementary and alternative medicine and is used in conventional settings as well. Most recently, the 2007 National Health Interview Survey estimated that 18 million U.S adults and 700,000 children had received massage therapy in the previous year. Today, Swedish massage continues to be the cornerstone of mainstream massage; however, there are various modalities practiced in the United States.

“Swedish is the foundation of all massage modalities and approaches,” says Colleen O'Connor, massage therapist and studio owner at Elements Louisville East. “We use all of the original Swedish techniques in any massage that we do, but as massage therapists we continue to evolve every day. We become better as we see new conditions and we adapt to find techniques and approaches that will help alleviate our clients’ pain and make them feel better.”

Mainstream Meets Massage

Over the last decade, O’Connor has seen the massage industry take off by leaps and bounds. In the past, many shared the attitude that massage was a luxury that people couldn’t afford or it was something that people who were in a high degree of pain used as a last resort to try to experience some relief. Today, with the emergence of retail massage and an increased knowledge from the public about the benefits of massage, its modalities and practices have become more of a widely utilized form of healthcare, relaxation and luxury that millions of people are using on a daily basis.

Some of the turning points that O’Connor attributes to the recent explosion in popularity and acceptance of massage by the American population include:

  • The weaving of traditional medicine with massage techniques. Nurses in the past and present have used the power of touch and massage in hospitals to help in healing patients. Specifically, nurses have used touch techniques in premature babies to help them thrive.
  • The on-camera presence of therapists at the Olympics. The world was exposed to the power of massage therapy when they saw Olympic athletes traveling with their therapists, as well as use massage techniques to prepare for and recover from their Olympic event.
  • The emergence of retail massage locations nationwide. More accessible massage studios have increased acceptance of massage therapy by the majority of the population as it is becoming seen as more of a necessity rather than a luxury. These locations and monthly wellness programs allow you to easily carve time out of your busy schedule to take care of yourself on a routine basis.
  • The introduction of industry licenses and therapist training. Massage has become more of a serious business over the past few years as many states require therapists to have initial and continuing education, as well as hold licenses to practice massage therapy. The industry also has added national oversight that plays an active role in defining how massage is delivered and how therapists are trained.

“There are a lot of these moments that have happened that make people realize that they can relate with using massage in their daily lives,” reflects O’Connor. “I think the acceptable images of massage therapy being embraced by the medical community and athletes have made it more mainstream.”

Benefits and Acceptance Continue to Cross Gender, Generation Lines

In our society of diminished downtime and escalating responsibilities, the need and demand for massage therapy continues to rise. The sandwich generation, in particular, is turning to massage for relief and relaxation to combat the increased responsibilities and stress associated with taking care of the people who have raised them, as well as raising their own children.

O’Connor also is seeing an influx of male clients in her studio who are golfers, heads of businesses, dads and retirees who are turning to massage to maintain their mental and physical health. And, parents are paving the way for their children to become comfortable with and appreciate the benefits of massage when they bring them in for a session to relieve repetitive motion issues from sports and other activities.

“In the next five to 10 years, I foresee more people in the future who will start looking at massage not as an alternative medicine or last resort, but as a way to take care of themselves as they progress through their life,” O’Connor said.

The evolution of massage continues to move forward at a rapid pace as the mental and physical benefits of the practice become more accepted among the American public. Take a total mind and body approach to health and wellness by including the power of massage therapy into your way of life.

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