Swedish Massage is the foundation of Western Massage therapy. It is defined by using certain techniques to increase blood flow, relieve tension, and create a full-body relaxation experience. From the name, one can guess that it was invented in Sweden or by a Swede, but the history is much more complicated than that.
Today we're taking you a little history lesson to find the origins of Swedish Massage, and how it evolved until today.
Swedish Massage is Not Swedish
Yes, Swedish Massage is a misnomer, and one recognized nowhere but the United States. In Europe and Canada, Swedish Massage is called "Classic Massage." It may seem strange, but the U.S. language is filled with such misnomers. For example, French fries, English Horn, English Muffin, Danish Pastry, are all named after a country where the origin is disputed.
What About Per Henrik Ling?
Per Henrik Ling was a Swede who was attributed with the foundation of Swedish Massage even though he had nothing to do with massage. This is not to say he wasn't incredibly influential; he was an enormous figure in gymnastics.
Ling was a known fencer and later medical gymnast, who claimed to have discovered a way to heal nerve damage through movement. After the Swedish military failed against Napoleon, the Swedish King, Charles XIV, appointed Per Henrik Ling to head the newly formed Military Gymnastics division. The goal was to use Ling's gymnastics to improve the health of the soldiers.
Later in life, he focused on the medical benefits of gymnastics and spent the rest of his life studying and researching to perfect his craft. He has since become a major influence in aerobics, acrobats, and the rest of Gymnastics.
What Does that Have to Do with Massage?
Years later, a Dutch practitioner by the name of Johan Georg Mezger developed this massage inspired by the strokes used in Per Henrik Lang's medical gymnastics. This appears to be the only link between the two.
At some point, a mistranslation occurred where Swedish Medical System became Swedish Massage System and stayed popular in the U.S., these mistranslations are the source of an embarrassing number of misnomers in the States.
Next time someone tells you that Per Henrik Ling invented Swedish Massage, do them a favor and correct them so that we can give Johan Georg Mezger credit where credit is due.