Massage is a method of manipulating soft tissue using compression and traction for therapeutic, palliative, and self-care or wellness purposes. The next sections include the history of professional societies, organizations, and associations, and glimpse into the future of massage.

The massage profession began to take shape during the beginning of the twentieth century. As massage gained popularity, unscrupulous schools began to offer massage training in which schools provided students lodging while they were enrolled in the program and work after their graduation. However, work environments were nothing more than brothels. In 1894 the Commissioners of the British Medical Journal published a report entitled “The Scandals of Massage” to expose these practices. This prompted nine British nurses and midwives to form a council of trained masseuses. That same year, the council established the Society of Trained Masseuses.


The founders of the Society acted to legitimize massage, which had become tarnished by its association with prostitution. The Society established a massage practice model, which regulated massage through the establishment of a massage curriculum and accreditation of massage schools, which included regular inspections and use of only qualified massage instructors. The Society quickly embraced wider methods of treatment, including medical gymnastics and water cures (which would later be called therapeutic exercise and hydrotherapy, respectively). Members of the Society were required to pass examinations and were subject to routine surveillance. In 1900, the Society was incorporated and become the Incorporated Society of Trained Masseuses.


By the end of World War I (1918), the Society had nearly 5000 members. In 1920 the Society merged with the Institute of Massage and Remedial Exercises. These two bodies were then granted a Royal Charter by King George and became the Chartered Society of Massage and Medical Gymnastics. By 1939 the membership in the Society numbered approximately 12,000.


World War II saw the emergence of the physical therapy profession as large numbers of soldiers returned from the war. Massage as a specific and exclusive treatment played a smaller role in physical rehabilitation as other methods were developed. Hence, massage became one procedure in the arsenal of rehabilitation and part of an overall treatment plan for patients. For this reason, the Chartered Society of Massage and Medical Gymnastics decided to change its name in 1943 and become the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, which remains today.


By 1947 the field of physical therapy and rehabilitation was established as a separate medical specialty. Massage therapy remains part of the physical therapy curriculum and is frequently referred to as manual therapy. An important distinction is that massage techniques such as friction and kneading are used in protocols for specific conditions rather than massage being used in a whole-body treatment.

In 1943, a postgraduate class from the College of Swedish Massage in Chicago created the American Association of Masseurs and Masseuses.


In 1958 the American Association of Masseurs and Masseuses changed its name to the American Massage and Therapy Association and, in 1983, become the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). Today, AMTA is the second largest massage organization with state chapters in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.


In 1987 the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) was founded and is currently the largest organization that serves the massage profession.


In 1962, Michael Murphy and Richard Pierce founded the Esalen Institute in Big Sur California, a retreat center and think tank for human potential movement. Many European scholars immigrated to the United States after being displaced by World Wars I and II. Several scholars ended up at Esalen, where they debated and exchanged ideas. Scholars include psychologist Wilhelm Reich (Reichian therapy), Moshe Feldenkrais (Feldenkrais method), Ida Rolf (structural integration or Rolfing), Alexander Lowen (bioenergetics), Fritz Smith (Zero Balancing), Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra, Dub Leigh (Zen Bodywork), Betty Fuller (Trager), Judith Aston (Aston Kinetics), John Upledger (Craniosacral Therapy), Til Luchau (Advanced Myofascial Techniques), and Dean Juhan (author of Job’s Body).


For many people, Esalen was their first exposure to massage and where many came to learn massage. Massage therapists at Esalen developed a distinct style, called Esalen Massage. In the 1980s, the Esalen Massage and Bodywork Association was founded. Many styles of massage have been developed since the 1960s, and a large majority have their roots at Esalen.

In 1990, the American Massage Therapy Foundation was established by the AMTA to advance the massage profession through supporting scientific research and evidence-informed practice skills. In 2004 the foundation became an independent organization and changed its name to the Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF).


In 1992, the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) was founded after significant encouragement from the AMTA and other industry leaders. The objective was to create a national certification to facilitate massage licensing reciprocity throughout the United States. A national certification examination was launched, and many states adopted the examination as part of their licensing requirements. In 2013 NCBTMB began providing board certification, which is currently the highest voluntary credential in the massage profession. NCBTMB is also actively involved in the massage continuing-education approval process. The practice of offering the examination as part of state licensure was retired in 2014.


The Touch Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Miami’s School of Medicine was also established in 1992 under the directorship of Dr. Tiffany Field. The Institute is the first in the world to focus on effects of massage and touch and its applications in the treatment of diseases. Their research efforts continue today and have shown that massage and touch have numerous beneficial effects on health and well-being.

Another important event in 1992 was the formation of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by the U.S. Congress. NCCAM’s mission was to investigate and evaluate unconventional health practices.


In 2005, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) was formed after the ABMP convened a meeting of massage regulators and educators. One of the initial goals of the Federation was to create a valid and reliable licensing examination, and this came to fruition in 2008 with the release of the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx). In 2014 the MBLEx became the only licensing examination in the United States.


In 2014, Congress passed new legislation to change the name of NCCAM within the NIH to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), stating that large population-based surveys found that the use of alternative medicine, defined as unproven practices used in place of conventional medicine, was actually rare. Complementary and integrative health (CIH) encompasses a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are used in conjunction with mainstream Western medicine. NCCIH classifies CIH therapies into two groups: natural products such as herbal supplements and probiotics and mind/body practices such as massage, acupuncture, and yoga. Massage, chiropractic, and osteopathic interventions are among the most common complementary health care practices utilized by the general public. Massage has been shown to be beneficial for many people and has become a respected and much-used health care modality.


Today, massage therapists play an important role in the management of a variety of medical conditions. Research continues to be conducted, and this new knowledge elevates the overall standing of the massage therapy profession in the health care, wellness, medical, and rehabilitation communities. Of clients who discussed massage therapy with their health care providers, 19% received a referral to receive massage and 61% received a recommendation for massage. Massage therapy is one of the complementary therapies with the highest physician referral rates, and massage is rated among physicians as the complementary therapy most likely to be beneficial and least likely to be harmful. Hospitals across the United States and Canada are using massage therapy for their patients and staff.

Additionally, the occupational outlook for massage therapists is bright with employment opportunities projected to grow 26% from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment opportunities are not only found in medical centers but also in spas, cruise ships, hotels, resorts, and wellness centers. Private practice is another career option for massage therapists.

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 Dr. Susan Salvo is a massage therapist, author, educator, researcher, explorer, and perpetual student. To learn more, check out the “About Susan” tab. You can contact Susan at