A Brief History of Animal Massage and Bodywork. Excerpts from Massage & Bodywork Magazine, April/May 2002..
As with many alternative treatments, animal massage has its roots in ancient practice. Early Egyptian hieroglyphics depict animal healers using massage for treatment. A full-body massage was recommended for dogs and horses by Flavius Arrianus, a philosopher and administrator under the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian. He stated it would "knit and strengthen the limbs ... make the hair soft and its hue glossy, and ...cleanse the impurities of the skin."1 Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt, author of Equine Massage: A Practical Guide, notes that horse massage was practiced in ancient China and Rome and more recently by the Hopi Indians of the American Southwest. And for centuries, horses owned by gentry have been curried, brushed and rubbed down as part of routine care.1
The benefits of massage for animals parallel those for humans. In fact, when you think about it, many findings in massage and touch research were initially proven with lab animals. Animal experiments evaluating the physiological effects of massage began as early as the 1800s.4 In the 1980s, Touch Research Institute began their investigation of the importance of tactile stimulation using rat pups as their subjects. And at present, studies are being conducted with animal models to track ions involved in the biological process of touch. In addition, the Chinese have produced numerous studies documenting the effects of Eastern modalities on animals. By extrapolating to humans and continuing with studies on bipeds, researchers have provided evidence of the many benefits of touch and massage.
One of the most valuable assets of animal massage is health maintenance. Regular massage aids in early detection of abnormalities, such as swelling, injury or painful areas, and facilitates early medical diagnosis of problems. In some cases the time element can be life-saving. The animal's general overall health is boosted by an increase in blood and lymph circulation and enhancement of muscle tone and flexibility.
Massage has become very popular for equine athletes. According to Patricia Whalen-Shaw, massage releases toxins from the muscle, allowing horses to perform longer at a higher level of activity. "Psychologically it's amazing," said Whalen-Shaw, LMT, and owner of Integrated Touch Therapy, Inc. "If they're focused and relaxed, they do their best. It's a part of the whole package of training." A few days before competition, massage is used for loosening musculature while post-event work moves metabolic waste and eases soreness. The animal can return to competition sooner. Equine massage therapy and bodywork continue to grow in popularity and acceptance across all disciplines, from the backyard pleasure horse, top level reiners and barrel horses, Grand Prix dressage horses and jumpers, racing horses and endurance horses. Many national teams send a bodyworker along with the team to elite competitions, including the World Equestrian Games, and the Olympics. Why? Because the benefits are proven and real.For more on the benefits of equine bodywork.
2. Fox, Michael, Dr. Michael Fox's Massage Program for Cats and Dogs (New York: New Market, 1981), 3-4.
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