History of Sports Massage

Sports Massage has long been popular in European Countries and is a primary source of care.

Trainers and coaches in the US used massage for restorative purposes, especially in boxing and track and field.

Jack Meagher, author of “Sports Massage” encountered the techniques of sports massage while in France in WWII and developed the system further in the US.

The modern history of sports massage started at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. Paavo Nurmi from Finland brought a personal massage therapist to the running competition and won 5 gold medals. Nurmi claimed that his training program included this special massage treatment.

The following are key dates and milestones:

Circa 400 BCE Early Greek Gymnasiums focused on exercise that consisted of wrestling, jumping, boxing, running, throwing and ball games, massage and baths

1BC – Roman Gymnasiums built for bath and exercise

1900’s – Australian Aborigines used massage during their football games

Circa1900 Finnish School of Massage, originating from Swedish Massage system, develops first system of sports massage.

1924 Runner Paavo Nurmi, the “Flying Finn” from Finland, wins 5 gold medals at the Olympic Games in Paris. This includes the 1.5K and 5K titles, in one day, with only a 30 minute break between events. Nurmi credits special massage treatment as one of the important components of his training program.

1924 to 1930 Dr. I.M. Sarkisov-Sirasini formulates basic concepts for Russian Sports Massage and begins teaching it at the Central Institute of Physical Therapy in Moscow.

Circa 1945 A German POW provides massage to Jack Meagher, U.S. professional athlete and massage therapist. Jack reports “my ability to move while playing was astounding”. (Jack had already graduated from a school of Swedish Massage, but had never heard of this technique before.) Jack goes on to learn the technique from a German instructor familiar with the technique.

1950 Russian athletes, competing internationally, get strong support for sports massage from Soviet government. Extensive research programs and proven techniques continue to be developed in Russia today.

1972 Lasse Viren, the other “Flying Finn”, sets a world record time in the 10K and an Olympic record in the 5K at the Summer Olympics in Munich. Runners learn that Viren received massage daily.

1980 After 30 years of experience with “sports massage”, Jack Meagher writes his classic book, entitled Sportsmassage: A Complete Program for Increasing Performance and Endurance in Fifteen Popular Sports. (Book no longer in print.)

1985 The American Massage Therapy Association, as part of a public relations campaign, creates the National Sports Massage Team (NSMT), and offers massage at the Boston Marathon. (NSMT no longer exists.)

1996 Sport & Remedial Massage Therapy written by Mel Cash

2004 – Book: Understanding Sports Massage written by Patricia Benjamin

2006 – Book: Therapeutic Massage in Athletics by Patricia Archer, athletic trainer, massage school teacher/owner.

2010 Massage for Sport Performance written by Michael McGuillicuddy

Sports massage has been slow in catching on in the US as compared to Europe.  In Russia, sports massage is a daily routine with Olympic athletes

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