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.

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

Herodicus. 484 – c. 425. Thought to be the founder of sports medicine. Tutored Hippocrates.

In the book Mechanical Vibration (Meridian Institute) M. L. H. Arnold Snow, M.D. 1912, mentions Herodicus.

One of the first to refer to the manner of giving massage.  He said friction should be gentle and slow at first, then rapid in combination with pressure, which was to be followed by gentle friction.  Other advocates were Plato, Socrates, and Hippocrates, who said “rubbing can bind a joint that is too loose, and loosen a joint that is too rigid. Hard rubbing binds, soft rubbing loosens, much rubbing causes parts to waste, moderate rubbing makes them grow.” This is the earliest definite information relative to the effect of variations in the application of massage.  These maxims should be remembered by those who use mechanical vibration for they well define its general therapeutic application.  Hippocrates also suggested the direction in which to apply massage the art of rubbing up, thereby assisting mechanical and physical processes, aiding circulation, relieving stasis and consequently quickening metabolic processes. M. L. H. Arnold Snow, M.D. 1912,

1BC – Roman Gymnasiums built for bath and exercise

1812 – Swedish fencing master and gymnast Pehr Henrik Ling combined the strokes of what we know as Swedish massage with remedial exercises, calling his technique kinesiotherapy

1800s – Athletic “Rubbers” were usually athletes who learned from other rubbers.

1881: Athletic training began in the United States when Harvard University hired James Robinson to work with their football team on conditioning. The first athletic trainers had no real technical training and mainly provided rub downs.

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.

1970 – James Cyriax created deep friction massage

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.) 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.

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   Book.  Sport and Remedial Massage Therapy. 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 – Book: Massage for Sport Performance written by Michael McGuillicuddy

2011 – AMTA Position Paper. Massage therapy for those who exercise

2013Sports & Exercise Massage: Comprehensive Care for Athletics, Fitness, & Rehabilitation 2nd Edition Sandy Fritz

2018NCBTMB Sports Massage Specialty Certificate created