Pehr Henrik Ling

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Pehr Henrik Ling
Bust of Pehr Henrik Ling in Göteborg

Pehr Henrik Ling (15 November 1776, Södra Ljunga – 3 May 1839, Stockholm) was pioneered the teaching of Physical Education of , and fencer master, developer and teacher of medical-gymnastics.

Early life[edit]

Ling was born at Södra Ljunga, Småland in 1776, the son of a minister, Lars Peter Ling, and the former Hedvig Maria (Hedda) Molin. Through his mother, he was a great-great grandson of the famous Swedish scientist Olof Rudbeck (1630–1702), discoverer of the human lymphatic system. After graduating from Växjö gymnasium in 1792, he studied theology at Lund University from 1793, but went to Uppsala University and completed his degree there in 1797.


Ling then went abroad during seven years. Ling studied at the University of Copenhagen and taught modern languages. His journey then took him to Germany, France and England. Financial difficulties, joint (overuse) injuries and rheumatism caused him to return.


Having established himself as a teacher in these arts, Ling was appointed fencing-master at Lund University (1805). He found that his daily exercises had completely restored his bodily health, and his thoughts now turned towards applying this experience for the benefit of others. He saw the potential for adapting these techniques to promote better health in many situations and thus attended classes on anatomy and physiology, and went through the entire curriculum for the training of a doctor. He then elaborated a system of gymnastics, exercises and maneuvers, divided into four branches, (1) pedagogical, (2) medical, (3) military, (4) aesthetic, which carried out his theories and would demonstrate the required occidental scientific rigor to be integrated or approved by established medical practitioners.

After several attempts to interest the Swedish government, Ling at last obtained government co-operation in 1813, when the Royal Gymnastic Central Institute for the training of gymnastic instructors was opened in Stockholm, with Ling appointed as principal. The orthodox medical practitioners were naturally opposed to the larger claims made by Ling and his disciples concerning cures of diseases, so far at least as anything more than the occasional benefit of some form of skillfully applied massage and maneuvers was concerned; But the fact that in 1831 Ling was elected a member of the Swedish General Medical Association (Svenska läkaresällskapet) shows that in his own country at all events his methods were regarded as consistent with professional recognition. He was elected a member of the Swedish Academy in 1835 and became a titular professor the same year.


Ling died in 1839, having previously named as the repositories of his teaching his pupils Lars Gabriel Branting (1799–1881), who succeeded him as principal of the Institute, and August Georgii, who became sub-director; his son, Hjalmar Ling (1820–1886), being for many years associated with them. All these, together with major Thure Brandt, who from about 1861 specialized in the treatment of women (gynecological gymnastics), are regarded as the pioneers of Swedish medical gymnastics.

Although Ling was usually credited as the father of Swedish massage, it was not a part of Ling’s Gymnastic Movements nor the curriculum of the Royal Central Gymnastic Institute founded by Ling in 1813.[1] The known "Swedish massage" techniques effleurage (long, gliding strokes), petrissage (lifting and kneading the muscles), friction (firm, deep, circular rubbing movements), tapotement (brisk tapping or percussive movements), and vibration (rapidly shaking or vibrating specific muscles) is mainly due to Johann Georg Mezger (1838–1909).[1]

There is a factoid that mentioned Ling learned massage from a Chinese friend Ming, this is an invention of Ling’s competitors during his time, in an effort to discredit his work. Although Ling was probably aware of Chinese massage, he was the first to develop a system of integrated manual therapy, combining physical training and gymnastic procedures with knowledge in anatomy, physiology, and pathology.[2]

Ling's system of medical gymnastics also influenced later institutions and systems. The Gymnastic Orthopedic Institute was founded in Stockholm in 1822 by Nils Åkerman, which after 1827 received a government grant. Around 1857, Gustaf Zander elaborated a medico-mechanical system of gymnastics, known by his name, and started his Zander Institute at Stockholm in 1865. At the Stockholm Gymnastic Central Institute, qualified medical men have supervised the medical department since 1864. The course is three years; one year for qualified doctors.

Broadly speaking, there have been two streams of development in the Swedish gymnastics founded on Ling's beginnings, either in a conservative direction, making certain forms of gymnastic exercises subsidiary to the prescriptions of orthodox medical science, or else in an extremely progressive direction, making these exercises a substitute for any other treatment, and claiming them as a cure for disease by themselves. A representative of the latter, more extreme, section was Henrik Kellgren (1837–1916), who had a special school and following.

Other variants and accounts of Dr Ling's practice and philosophies were published: a Handbook of Medical Gymnastics (English edition, 1899) by Anders Wide of Stockholm represents the more conservative practice. Henrik Kellgren's system, which, though based on Ling's, admittedly goes beyond it, is described in The Elements of Kellgren's Manual Treatment (1903) by Edgar F. Cyriax, who, before taking the MD degree at Edinburgh, had passed out of the Stockholm Institute as a gymnastic director. See also the encyclopedic work Sweden: its people and its industry: historical and statistical handbook (1904), p. 348, edited by Gustav Sundbärg for the Swedish government.


  1. ^ a b Calvert, Robert Noah. "Swedish Massage". Massage Magazine. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  2. ^ Ottosson, A (2010). "The first historical movements of kinesiology: scientification in the borderline between physical culture and medicine around 1850.". Int J Hist Sport. 27 (11): 1892–1919. doi:10.1080/09523367.2010.491618. PMID 20653114. 

External links[edit]

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Anders Fredrik Skjöldebrand
Swedish Academy,
Seat No 18

Succeeded by
Per Daniel Amadeus Atterbom