Sports Massage Therapy History

Sports Massage goes back to at least the early Greeks, circa 400 BCE, who used massage and baths for athletes competing in running, wrestling, throwing events, etc. Rome did the same for the leisure of their upper class of nobles and for the performance of their gladiators.

The modern history of sports massage started at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. Paavo Nurmi, the “Flying Finn”, from Finland brought a personal massage therapist to the running competition and won 5 gold medals. Nurmi claimed that his training program included this special massage treatment.

In Russia, from 1924 to 1930, Dr. I.M. Sarkisov-Sirasini formulated basic concepts for Russian Sports Massage and began teaching it at the Central Institute of Physical Therapy in Moscow. From 1950, Russian athletes competing internationally have gotten strong support for massage (not called Sports Massage back then) from the Soviet government. Extensive research programs and proven techniques continue to be used in Russia today and many other European countries have embraced sports massage as part of their athlete’s recipe for winning.

In 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 as part of his training program.

Jack Meagher (1924-2005), pronounced “Mar”, is considered the “Father of American Sport Massage”. He encountered the techniques of sports massage while in France in World War II as a medic when a German POW provided him massage. Being an U.S. professional athlete and massage therapist, Jack reported “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.) He goes on to learn the technique from a German instructor familiar with the technique.

In the post war years he developed this skill with more formal training and in the mid-1950s coined the term “sports massage.” Under that umbrella, he combined a series of specific soft tissue applications based on anatomy, physiology and muscular kinetics. The application of these techniques became known as the “Meagher Method” of sports massage.

In 1970, he had an opportunity to apply this knowledge on a horse when a friend brought him a lame quarter horse for treatment. That was the start of his career in equine massage and he began applying massage techniques to thoroughbred horses. The results were so outstanding that Mr. Meagher soon found himself as a valued member of the United States Equestrian Team. The subsequent introduction of sports massage to thoroughbred race horses followed during the late 1980s.
Jack was the massage therapist for two United States Equestrian Teams as well as for National Football League athletes represented by Professional Sports Management. He divided his work week between horses and humans, tending many of the top horses of the world, leading athletes in a variety of sports, as well as European royalty. He served the United States Equestrian Teams at the Montreal Olympics in 1976 and at a number of World Championships. His responsibilities covered sports massage therapy for the riders and their horses.

1980 After 30 years of experience with “sports massage”, Jack Meagher writes his classic book, entitled Sports massage: A Complete Program for Increasing Performance and Endurance in Fifteen Popular Sports. His career continued up until he passed away in 2005.