The Modern History of Massage

history of massage

This unique History of Massage is the modern version of what it really took to get us where we are today.  The heck with Ling and all those guys.  These are the days of our lives.

This history starts in the 1960’s, more specifically in 1962 with the founding of Esalen Institute which  became the center for many transformational therapies and studies in human behavior and massage/bodywork.  In 1964,  Fritz Pearls with his Gestalt Therapy, lead the way for more experiments in present moment living and personal responsibility along with client centered relationships.

The Curious 6o’s

1960 -The American Massage & Therapy Association (AM&TA later to become AMTA) was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1960.  A Code of Ethics was developed in 1960, and the Massage Journal replaced The Masseur as the official AM&TA publication in 1962.

1960’s – John Barnes Developed Myofascial Release Therapy

1962 – Esalen Founded by Michael Murphy and Dick Price

1966 – Raymond Nimmo:  The Receptor Tonus Method.  noxious generative points.

1968 – Ruth William’s writes “25 years: History in the Making”  which is the history of the AMTA.  Read the full book here in PDF format.

1968 – The Heartwood Institute founded.

The Formative 70’s

1970 – Massage schools started being curriculum approved schools as compared to schools from 1930-1970 that were self credentialed schools.  1987 outside accrediting agencies were created to accredit schools.

1971 – Core Energetics developed by Dr. John Pierraolcos.


1972 – Moshe Felednkrais writes Awareness Through Movement which follows up to his 1949  publication “The Body and Mature Behavior” and  “The Potent Self: A Study of Spontaneity and Compulsion.

1972 – George Downing  “The Massage Book” – An international classic book on the art of massage for lay people.

1973 – Zero Balancing developed by osteopath and acupuncturist, Dr. Fritz Smith

1996 – Myotherapy developed by Bonnie Prudden.

1977 – Aston – Patterning developed by Judith Aston

1978  – Hellerwork created by Joseph Heller (after training with Ida Rolf and others)  ,

1978 – Soma Neroumuscular Integration developed by Bill Williams Ph.D who studied with Ida Rolf


Of course the 80’s

1980sWatsu (water therapy) was developed by Harold Dull 

1980’s-Taws Method (Soft Tissue Release) was developed by Stuart Taws (his website), a British sports rehabilitation therapist now residing in America

1980  AMTA had 1,400 members

1980 – 9 states have licensing

1980 – Frances Tappan writes “Healing Massage Techniques”

1981 – Lauren Berry, a physical therapist and mechanical engineer, recorded his methods of manipulating joints, “The Berry Method, Volume I”

1981–  Lawrence H. Jones identifies tenderpoints and develops “Strain- Counterstrain” techniques of treating points.

1983 – Janet Travell writes book. with David Simons.  Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction:  The Triggerpoint Manual : Volumes I & 2

1985 – Massage Magazine Started by Robert Calvert.

1985 – 10 states have state massage licensing.

1987 – outside accrediting agencies were created to accredit schools.

1987 – ABMP was founded by Sherri Williamson ( a disgruntled massage therapists according to Robert Calvert in his book “The History of Massage”)

1988 – National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) created by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). which provided the seed money for startup.  The NCE was originally started as an AMTA entrance exam and quickly moved to becoming a national exam which we all know is not so national.

1988 –   The History of National Certification:

The idea of having a national certification board was initiated by AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association) in 1988.  AMTA gave $150,000 and later another $75,000 from their general funds to create an exam that was initially an entrance exam for AMTA potential members.  Sometime and somehow, in 1989, the intentions changed and it became a national exam. 

In April of 1989, 60 massage therapists signed and sent a joint initiative to AMTA to stop the process until more information could be gathered regarding whether or not national certification was necessary for the profession.  This was rejected by AMTA.

A steering committee was chosen by  4 AMTA officers.  It consisted of 2 members of AMTA who initially proposed this action, Susan Rosen of Washington and Susanne Carlson of Oregon. Within the committee,  7 out of 9 members were AMTA members.

In May 1990, the steering committee declared that it was now separate from AMTA. 

Massage Magazine in Jan/Feb 1991 reports that there were never any studies, surveys or reports done that established a need for certification.  There was a survey of AMTA members asking whether or not they supported the action, but not not if the thought national certification was needed.  1,420 AMTA members responded of which 1,042 said they supported national certification.  At the time there were approximately 60,000 therapists nationwide.

National Certification was developed in an attempt to bring credibility to the profession.  It’s intentions were to improve the status and image of the bodywork community.  The exam would certify that certain educational and professional standard were met.  The educational requirements were the bare minimum thought to be need to practice massage. The exam is based on a study done to find out what practitioners do and what they need to know.

The national certification board has created an entry level test.  It does not mean that therapist who take it will be a good therapist.  It has not eliminated prostitution or the idea the massage is often equated with prostitution. It does not mean that the therapist will know what to do when they work on your herniated disc or other injury. It does not eliminate having to be fingerprinted (in some cities) or get a massage parlor license to set up a massage business.

The test questions were supposedly made after doing a survey of what therapists do in their practices. It claims to have based the questions on what current therapists have been using in their practice. I would love to see how the survey was done and who it was sent to. How long have these people been in practice?  What information did they learn after massage school?
The test itself is questionable as it includes topics such as meridians, chakras, other types of therapies such a Ayuvedic medicine, what color your organs are on a energetic level.   I feel these do not have anything to do with doing basic massage.  

What it does do, is protect the massage profession from being regulated by other professionals such as doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists. It does often give credibility to a therapist in a state that doesn’t have any regulations and states where the legislative members are uneducated about massage. There are still some cities/towns that have zoning laws restricting the practice of massage in certain areas.  There are also some places where massage is still equated with the practice of prostitution.  

 1989 – AMTA also created the Commission on Massage Training/Accreditation (COMTAA) in 1989 when it was created by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) to set educational standards for the massage therapy profession with a goal of eventual recognition by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE). – See more at:

timeline history of massage therapy1990’s  – Were you there?

1990 – AMTA had 8,500 members.

1990 – ABMP had 2100 members

1990’s –  David Palmer creates and markets On Site Massage using a massage chair.

1990 – protocol for fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) defined by the American College of Rheumatology

1991 –  Touch Research Institute created.

1992 – National Certification created.

1994 – International Massage Associated created by Will Green.  (see also 2011 – IMA closed for fraud)  Alternative to massage associations for liability insurance.

April 1996 –  ABMP was sold to a group of four people who now comprise the core of the company’s management team.

1997 – Business Mastery by Cherie Sohnen-Moe by Lippencott Williams and Wilkins.  This was one of the first books on business for massage therapists and is now it it’s 4th edition.

1997 – AMTA Commissioned first annual consumer survey on attitudes and usage of massage therapy; annual results now most consistent gauge of massage usage and consumer attitudes on massage.?- Launched AMTA website

1999 – Minnesota creates Freedom of Access legislation.

1990 – 1999 another 16 states and Washington, D.C. took the step for licensing.

Jan. 1999 – 137,390 massage therapists (ABMP statistics)

1999 – The Educated Heart by Nina McIntosh – one of the first ethics books.

 1999 – Commission on Massage Training/Accreditation (COMTAA)  was officially changed to the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) –

2000 and beyond

2000 – Mississippi, Illinois, Kentucky, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Montana have passed regulatory legislation.

2002Massage Envy Franchise started by John Leonesio (former owner of a chain of health clubs) and Shawn Haycock (Licensed Massage Therapist) in Scottsdale AZ.
Leonesio created a chain of health clubs that he sold to 24 hour fitness in 1999.  2008 – Massage Envy was sold to the Essel Group.  2010 – Massage Envy Sold to Sentinel Capital Partners (owners of groups of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Cottman Transmission franchises) — and now the franchise network is owned by Roark Capital Group (Roark after the character in the book the Fountain Head.)

2002 – COMTA was recognized by the USDE as an approved institutional and programmatic accrediting agency of massage therapy schools and programs – See more at:

2004 -COMTA officially separated from AMTA

2004 – Salary Statistics from BLS:  “Median hourly earnings of massage therapists, including gratuities earned, were $15.36 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $9.78 and $23.82. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.16, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $32.21. Generally, massage therapists earn 15 to 20 percent of their income as gratuities. For those who work in a hospital or other clinical setting, however, tipping is not common.”

2005  – Massage Magazine sold to Doyle Group

2005Federation of  State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) Created

2004-2006 ish – Cortiva goes on a buying spree of massage schools, buying up smaller “mom and pop” type schools.

2005 – Average massage-related income for massage therapists in 2005 was $18,950, with a median income of $14,500 (2005 ABMP Member Survey from internet archives)

2005 –  ABMP salary stats: Total earnings by massage therapists, including their earnings from other employment, were $32,506 (2005 ABMP Member Survey).

First-year practice average income was $9,589, reflecting the challenges of establishing a professional-service practice (2005 ABMP Member Survey).

2006 – 241,058 massage therapists in the United States as of January 2006 (ABMP ) up from 137,390 in January 1999

2006 -A U.S. Department of Labor forecast for 2006–2007 projected an 18 percent to 26 percent increase in job opportunities through 2014 (Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006–2007 Occupational Outlook Handbook)

2007  – First job task analysis by FSMTB.

2007ABMP Metrics Section (see Internet Archives):  ABMP 2007 Member Survey also indicates:

  • The average age of ABMP members graduating in 2007 and entering the profession is 44. The median age is 45. (We believe profession-wide average and median ages are a few years lower.)
  • Close to 83 percent are women and 54.5 percent are married.
  • Massage therapists had an average of 14.4 client contact hours (12 hours median) in the week prior to the survey, according to the ABMP member study.
  • 65.6 percent wish they had more clients ó 21.2 percent indicated that (more clients) was the one change they would most like to make to their practice.
  • Nearly half of the respondents (51 percent) report supplementing their income with another job, a job at which they spend an average of 25 hours per week. The top five second occupations include: office/secretary/clerks; massage instructor; medical, including nurses; teacher/education; and sales/retail.
  • 90 percent have at least some college.

2008 – Massage Envy sold to Veria – a Texas-based, health-focused multimedia company that is a unit of Indian conglomerate The Essel Group.

2008 – Rick Rosen writes a White Paper :  On Becoming a Profession. (PDF on

2009Alliance for Massage Therapy Education founded.  (Founding Members)

January 2009 –  AMTA announced it is now backing the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) , developed by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) was the better exam, and withdrew their support of the NCBTMB. Uhoh…  The NCB says the AMTA was saying that “AMTA’s decision to endorse the MBLEx was driven by passion rather than reason”.  see Massage Today March 2009.

Feb 2009 – Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge Task Force Created.

March 2009  March issue of MT reported on the American Massage Therapy Association’s (AMTA) recent support of the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination(MBLEx).

June 2009 – The NCBTMB loses their way and starts offering discounts on Pizza and Oil Changes : see the breaking news.

Spring 2010– 43 states licensed plus WA.DC.

2010 – Veria sold Massage Envy to Sentinel Capital Partners, a New York-based private-equity firm that owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Church’s Chicken and other franchises in a number of states.  See article.


[table] Year, Number of Massage Schools

1985, 50

May 1991 , 190

Jan 1995 , 316

Dec 1998 , 572

June 2002 , 875

Nov 2004 , 1346

2006, 1582

2009 , 1600

2011, 1400




1 thought on “The Modern History of Massage”

  1. Very nice article! It’s important to see where we came from and some of the pitfalls. Let’s not lose our momentum and become complacent. We need to keep pushing for more regulation across the nation and more medical research! It would be nice to see massage mentioned alongside standard care for most doctors.

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