The foundations of modern medical massage began in the early 20th century with Anatoly Sherbak, a leading Russian physician and scientist of the time. Spending more than 20 years on research and clinical studies, Sherbak investigated and developed medical massage procedures as a powerful reflexotherapy method. His basic approach was to eliminate abnormalities in reflex zones — specific areas that include the skin, muscles, connective tissue, periosteum and any inner organs and systems sharing a common spinal segment level of innervation.
He believed inner organ diseases transmit pathological impulses via a given spinal segment of innervation. The same segment shares this innervation with various other somatic structures on that level. As a result of these pathological impulses, abnormalities develop in all structures of that particular reflex zone, 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, and trigger point development in 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, the "father of medicine," once said, "If a patient has a health problem, first check his spine." There is much truth in this 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.
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 a medical massage procedural protocol.
Two German physicians, O. Glezer and V.A. Dalicho, answered the call. They spent an additional 20 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. Additionally, they published more than 20 maps of reflex zone abnormalities, including those associated with cervical spondylosis, cardiovascular diseases and digestive system disorders. 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 their 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.