massage did not originate in Sweden, nor was it created by a Swede.
Also, in Sweden there is no "Swedish massage"; instead,
massage is referred to almost universally as "classic massage."
And in most of Europe the term classic massage is much more prevalent
than Swedish massage. But in America, the term classic massage is
used very little, while Swedish massage is considered the classic
and most basic of all massage methods.
And so the term "Swedish massage"
is a misnomer in a number of ways. I don’t know of a massage
textbook written during the last 100 years that does not attribute
Swedish massage to Peter Henry Ling (1776-1837), a Swede. Setting
aside the argument that Swedish massage is a misnomer and would
be more historically correct if it were called classic massage,
Peter Ling was not the creator of Swedish massage. This may come
as a shock to many readers, but it is absolutely true. Peter Ling
is not the "father of Swedish massage," because Swedish
massage was not a part of Ling’s Swedish Gymnastic Movements
nor the curriculum of the Royal Central Gymnastic Institute founded
by Ling in 1813.
Swedish massage is defined in large part
by the original strokes that compose its method: effleurage
(stroking), petrissage (kneading), tapotement (striking),
and frictions (rubbing), with vibration added later. The
French terms - effleurage, petrissage, frictions (massage a’
frictions) and tapotement - were never used by Peter Ling, by
any of his successors nor by the Central Gymnastic Institute. So
where did these terms come from?
Dutch practitioner Johan Georg Mezger
(1838-1909) is generally credited (by physicians such as Emil Kleen
and Richard Hael, who researched the origins of massage and gymnastics)
as the man who adopted the French names to denote the basic strokes
under which he systemized massage as we know it today, as Swedish
or classic massage. Somehow, the term Swedish Movement System was
transposed to Swedish Massage System sometime during the second
half of the 19th century. Ling’s system was the Swedish Movement
System or Swedish Gymnastic Movement System. This may be how he
has become incorrectly associated for so long with Swedish massage.
When the first books were written about Ling's Swedish Gymnastic
System, the writers used the French terms so prevalent since Mezger's
use of them. Later writers evidently attributed the French terms
to Ling because of this.1
George Taylor, M.D., writing in 1885,
uses the terms "clappings, knockings, stroking, kneading, pullings,
shakings and vibratings" as the passive movements used by Ling
in his Swedish gymnastic system. However, he gives very little attention
to describing those movements. This may be explained first because
Ling provided no explanations and second by the following passage
from Taylor: "But the employment of duplicated [passive] movements,
it must be confessed, is attended with difficulties that will prevent
their general use as a medical resource. An ordinary course of medical
instruction does not confer the necessary qualifications for their
successful application; the tact necessary to prescribe and apply
them properly is only acquired by long and patient practice, and
the labor is excessively severe."
Even so, by 1890 a number of physicians
and non-physicians had published books describing in detail with
text and illustrations the massage movements we now refer to as
Swedish Massage. And Swedish, or classic, massage was used extensively
in a number of sanitariums, including the great one run by John
Harvey Kellogg, M.D., and other establishments in Europe and North
These writings and use of massage movements
successfully ended the commingling of massage with any of the gymnastic
or movement systems found so prevalent earlier in the century and
brought about the advent of massage as a stand-alone therapeutic
tool for the first time in its long history. And the first to stand
alone were the massage methods systemized by Mezger and expanded
upon ever since.
1. Benjamin, Patricia, "Notations to the General Principles
of Gymnastics by Pehr Henrik Ling." Lars Agren and Patricia
Benjamin, trans., Journal of the American Massage Therapy Association,
Robert Noah Calvert is
the founder and CEO of Massage Magazine. The material for
this column comes from Calvert's book, The History of Massage
published in February 2002 by Healing Arts Press.