History of Modern Medical Massage

Anatoly Sherbak, a leading Russian physician and scientist of his time, set the foundation of modern medical massage in the early 20th century. Spending more than twenty years in research and clinical studies, Sherbak investigated and developed medical massage procedures into a powerful reflex therapy method.

His basic approach was to eliminate abnormalities in reflex zones. These zones are specific areas that include the skin, muscles, connective tissue, and the periosteum. These abnormalities could be the result of inner organ diseases, as well as support and movement system disorders.

He believed that inner organ diseases transmit pathological impulses via a given spinal segment of innervations to the various somatic structures on that segmental level. As a result of these pathological impulses, abnormalities develop in all structures of those particular reflex zones, and are expressed in the form of higher skin density, muscular tension, development of trigger points, high tension and immobility of connective tissue, hypertrophy or atrophy of the periosteum. These abnormalities cause pain, discomfort, limited range of motion, and a variety of other symptoms. When diseased inner organs are the cause of abnormalities, the reflex phenomenon is termed “viscero-somatic reflex.”

At the same time, spinal disorders such as spondylosis, can promote the development of abnormalities in the reflex zone – in both somatic and visceral components. The pathological impulse generated by such a disorder, can not only cause pain at its somatic origin, but also reach inner organs and disturb their function. This reflex phenomenon is termed somato-visceral reflex. Hippocrates once said, “If a patient has a health problem, first check his spine.” There is much truth in that statement.

According to Sherbak, the application of medical massage techniques by a practitioner helps to eliminate abnormalities from somatic elements, which will then reduce pain and increase range of motion. Additionally, a therapeutic effect on inner organs via medical massage application can be observed.

It is very important to understand that abnormalities in skin, fascia, and the periosteum cannot always be detected due to the time needed for incubation. On the other hand, any inner organ disease, stress, or support and movement system disorder, causes muscles to react almost immediately. In any of the scenarios mentioned above, all components of soft tissue (skin, fascia, muscle, other connective tissue) are still biologically active zones. By mobilizing these soft tissues, we awaken significant positive changes in the function of organs and systems.

Sherbak died in 1936 leaving a tremendous database of research behind. Before his death, he made appearances before various European medical community gatherings. He asked physicians and scientists to take over his database and continue his work in developing medical massage procedural protocols.

Two German physicians, O. Glezer and V.A. Dalicho, answered Sherbak’s call. They spent an additional twenty years on medical massage studies and clinical work. In 1955, Glezer and Dalicho introduced a complete medical massage protocol to the medical community, including detailed work on the physiological effects of massage. In addition, they published more than twenty maps of reflex zone abnormalities, including those associated with cervical spondylosis, cardiovascular diseases, digestive system disorders and more. These maps have proven to be of tremendous use, aiding the practitioner to look for abnormalities in the skin, muscles, connective tissue and periosteum. One of Glezer and Dalicho’s greatest contributions to medical massage was the development of palpation diagnostic procedures, enabling the practitioner to detect abnormalities. In other words, they made the work of the massage therapist physically easier, leading to safe, rapid and stable results. All O. Glezer and V.A. Dalicho maps can be found in the bonus material section on each of 12 DVDs in my collection.

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