What is Thai Massage?

Young woman receiving Thai massage
Yagi Studio/Getty Images

Thai massage is a style of massage that combines acupressure, assisted yoga postures, and ayurveda. It originated in Buddhist monasteries as a form of preventative health care for monks.

How Is Thai Massage Different From a Typical Massage? The Techniques

Unlike more popular forms of massage that use oil or lotion and are done on an elevated massage table, Thai massage is usually done on a padded mat or futon on the floor.

No oil or lotion is applied, so you are fully clothed. 

The therapist uses his or her hands, knees, legs, and feet to move you into a series of yoga-like stretches and also applies muscle compression, joint mobilization, and acupressure.

Related: See Our Thai Massage Gallery

Is Thai Massage Painful?

Thai massage is invigorating. Unlike more classic styles of massage, Thai massage is often described as painful, but a licensed massage therapist should use your feedback and adjust the degree of pressure and stretching.

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.

The Benefits of Thai Massage

Shiatsu 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. In addition, Thai massage is being explored as a treatment for the following health problems:

  • Tension headaches
  • Balance
  • Certain types of back pain (typically subacute and chronic nonspecific back pain)
  • Muscle spasticity

Possible Side Effects

A licensed massage therapist should ask you for 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 OK, 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.

Related: Questions About Massage You May Be Too Embarrassed to Ask

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. 

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.

Continue Reading