Should You Try Thai Massage?

A mix of deep pressure and assisted yoga, this modality can be powerful

Young woman receiving Thai massage
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If you've been jonesing for a change from your traditional Swedish massage, or you are particularly stiff or sore due to exercise or arthritis, Thai massage may be just what you're looking for. Unlike most massage modalities that utilize massage oils and require you to disrobe and climb under a sheet on a massage table, Thai massage is performed while you are fully clothed, usually on a padded mat on the floor.

Instead of the relaxing gliding and kneading motions characteristic of more popular forms of massage, Thai massage employs stretching, pulling, and rocking techniques to relieve tension and enhance flexibility and range of motion. It is sometimes called the "lazy person's yoga." 

The therapist uses his or her hands, knees, legs, and feet to move you into a series of yoga-like stretches and also applies deep muscle compression, joint mobilization, and acupressure. Thai massage also utilizes energy work, which, according to ancient Asian culture, treats the subtle energetic field within the body. It corrects blockages, deficiencies, and imbalances in the flow of this energy, which then is believed to improve the client's health. 

Is Thai Massage Painful? 

Applying pressure to tender muscle fiber adhesions (known as "muscle knots") can hurt, but there is a difference between that type of discomfort and pain due to excessive or inappropriate pressure and stretching.

While it may be difficult to avoid some discomfort when targeting muscle knots, a qualified, licensed massage therapist should be able to adjust the massage pressure and movements so that you are not in pain.

Thai massage is sometimes described as painful, but a licensed massage therapist should use your feedback and adjust the degree of pressure and stretching.

Related: See Our Thai Massage Gallery

The Potential Benefits of Thai Massage

Massage of all types is often used to relieve stress and protect against stress-related health issues. It is also said to boost energy and improve range of motion and flexibility. Thai massage, in particular, is said to benefit or ameliorate many different health problems. Specifically, it may: 

  • Relieve tension headaches
  • Reduce types of back pain (typically subacute and chronic nonspecific back pain)
  • Relieve muscle pain and spasticity as well as joint stiffness and pain
  • Increase flexibility and range of motion
  • Stimulate circulation and lymphatic drainage
  • Boost energy
  • Calm the nervous system 

Possible Contraindications

A licensed massage therapist should ask you about your health history before the massage. Thai massage may not be safe for someone with health conditions such as disk herniation, osteoporosis, recent surgery, or cardiovascular disease. If you're considering trying Thai massage, it's a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before getting treatment to discuss whether it's appropriate for you.

Pregnant women should check with their doctor first before getting a massage. If he or she says that it is okay, ask for a recommendation for a licensed massage therapist who is certified in pregnancy massage.

Massage shouldn't be done over bruises, inflamed or weak skin, unhealed or open wounds, skin rash, tumors, abdominal hernia, or recent fractures.

What to Know Before Your Appointment

You are usually asked to bring or wear loose, comfortable clothing to the massage. 

A typical Thai massage is 60 minutes to two hours long.

Some additional tips:

  • Don’t eat a heavy meal before a massage.
  • If it's your first time at the clinic or spa, arrive at least 10 minutes early to complete the necessary forms and change. Otherwise, arrive at least five minutes early so you can have time to change before starting the massage.
  • Be sure that your massage therapist has your complete health history, because people with certain conditions should not have Thai massage.
  • If you feel discomfort at any time, let your massage therapist know. 

If you're new to massage, here are some top massage etiquette questions answered

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Sources 

Apfelbaum, Amanda. Thai Massage: Sacred Body Work. Penguin, 2004

The School of Thai Yoga Massage

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