It’s not always easy to distinguish between traditional and modern (Western) massage, because many modern massage treatments are in fact hybrids or integrations of already existing traditional massage modalities. The differences are often not clear-cut.
Another issue is that there’s no consensus about what exactly is considered “ancient” or “traditional.” That is, are we talking about massage modalities with a history of a hundred years or a thousand years, or perhaps older?
Even in ancient Traditional Medicine systems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Indian Ayurveda we find new treatment modalities added rather recently, like about a hundred years or even fifty years ago. By contrast, some massage treatment modalities that are considered modern, such as Swedish Massage, were developed in the 19th century already.
For what it is, if something can be said of being “modern” is that modern massage more likely includes contemporary scientific and medical knowledge of the body into its approach. That is, modern anatomical, physiological and neurological concepts of the body play an important role in designing and applying a massage.
Moreover, modern massage usually primarily addresses physical health (or relaxation) issues of an orthopedic and musculoskeletal nature, and in a much lesser degree spiritual, trauma or emotional healing. Handling emotional and spiritual aspects are typically the domain of traditional massage modalities, where physical, spiritual and emotional healing are integrated, that is, connected parts of a treatment session.
In contrast to modern massage modalities, traditional massage is commonly embedded within Traditional Medicine systems, such as used in China (TCM), India (Ayurveda), or Thailand (Thai Traditional Medicine), to give some examples. Generally, traditional massage is only one of the remedies within a complete treatment approach that typically also includes herbal medicine, self-stretching, self-massage, visualizations, and meditation, among other types of treatment modalities.
One could say that traditional massage is part of a truly holistic approach of healing, whereas modern massage is often used as a standalone healing modality in its own right.