Massage is considered one of the world’s oldest professions. There are paintings of people performing manual therapy on the walls of Egyptian pyramids, and it is also mentioned in the early Chinese classic “The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Cannon”. These are just two examples of many.
Yet, despite all this evidence of massage’s ancient roots, it is still considered by many to be “New Age” or “Alternative”. I don’t feel the need to address massage as a new age practice, but I would like to discuss the difference between complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
Here are the definitions from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) nccam.nih.gov:
“Complementary” generally refers to using a non-mainstream approach together with conventional medicine.
“Alternative” refers to using a non-mainstream approach in place of conventional medicine.
To me, massage fits the definition of complimentary medicine quite nicely. When I worked in the chemotherapy infusion center it was alongside the medical team. The massage could often reduce treatment anxiety in the patients, and alleviate some of the side-effects of the chemo, but getting the patient their conventional treatments always came first. Massage by itself isn’t going to cure cancer, though I really wish it could, but improving quality of life is incredibly valuable. Now, NCCAM is starting to consider massage as shifting from complementary to conventional medicine because so many medical centers are starting to include it.
They also state that there is very little true alternative medicine. They consider systems like Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine as being more of a gray area between the two. Probably it is dependent on how individual practitioners present themselves and their treatments. I don’t see massage as having that same wiggle room.
I think that as we learn more about how stress and anxiety effect our bodies, massage will become even more popular as a preventative therapy. I know that I, and most of my clients, see massage as a vital component of self-care and wellness.