Did You Know … Jack Meagher, Massage Profession Pioneer

Jack Meagher (1924-2005) is an important figure in the re-emergence of athletic and equine massage in the 1980s. He is credited with coining the term “sports massage” although he spelled it “sportsmassage.”

Meagher (pronounced “Mar”) worked as a medic in General Patton’s Third Army during World War II. He wrote that he first learned massage from a German prisoner of war who taught him about “stress points.” His description of what this meant sounds like a tender point/trigger point formation which he described as sore when touched, often referring pain, and fibrous in a way that affected the line of pull and strength of the muscle.

After the war Meagher attended two massage schools and settled into a practice at the Salem, Massachusetts YMCA. At the beginning of his career Meagher was an old-style Swedish masseur with big hands and instinctive hands-on talent. His daughter described him as an Archie Bunker type who spoke plainly and had a big heart.

Although it had been an area of focus for athletic rubbers, and a part of the Swedish massage tradition, athletic massage languished in the “dark days” of the 1950s-60s. Meagher emerged in the 1970s as a therapist who was working with elite athletes in both human and equine form. He treated “Big Jim” Nance and several other football pros, and other athletes as word of mouth spread about his skills. He developed a particular interest in running injuries.

Clearly a horse whisperer type, Meagher started treating race horses according to his own unique sense of how to go about it. In his work and when he taught others, Meagher was very cognizant of the fact that horses could not describe the problem, and if they weren’t on board with what you were doing it could go badly for you: “A horse is the biggest, strongest, toughest athlete in the world, yet he can’t tell you where he is hurt. You have to go find the problem. It’s kind of a study in anatomy in Braille.” Meagher treated horses at the Olympics, World Championships and many top North American equestrian events. He actually usually worked with both the horse and the jockey.

Beginning in 1980, Meagher wrote several books: Sportsmassage, Beating Muscle Injuries for Runners, Beating Muscle Injuries for Horses, and Sportsmassage: A Complete Program for Increasing Performance and Endurance in Fifteen Popular Sports. He also began teaching athletic and equine massage to massage therapists throughout North America.

Meagher was offended by the term “rubdown” about which he said: “The difference between a rubdown and a massage is an art form, an art form called accuracy.”

by Debra Curties ’84

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