By Vanessa Hazzard
Originally featured in Massage Today July 2018 Edition
Thai massage is the most well-known branch of traditional Thai medicine. What we currently practice as
Thai massage has been highly influenced by Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, along with
existing indigenous Thai healing practices. Like the Thais, wellness practitioners in the U.S. have also
blended healing practices from around the globe.
Because of the dynamic stretches, massage therapists in the West tend to gravitate towards Thai massage for
use on clients that aim to increase their flexibility. While this is one benefit, this ancient modality is way
more than just stretching.
In Thai massage theory, it is believed to be 72,000 invisible energy pathways, called sen lines, in the body.
Only 10 of those sen lines have been “mapped” on the body and are used during sessions. The sen are
conduits for an energy called, lom, which translates to “wind.” The goal is to remove stagnation within the
sen lines so that lom, can flow more freely. This means that the client experiences a sense of ease (as opposed to dis-ease). This is done through compressions, massage, stretching, movement, as well as an opening mantra recited before laying hands on the client. These physical techniques have energetic intentions. They’re meant to balance the total body and
spirit of the recipient. As research into Thai massage grows, studies have been confirming what practitioners
in Thailand have known for years. This modality is, in fact, beneficial for an array of physical and mental
Thai Massage supports mental well-being and has been shown to decrease depression and anxiety. It decreases psychological stress by increasing parasympathetic activity. This activity slows the heart rate and allows the body to “rest and digest”. In 2014, a study was published in Clinical Interventions in Aging that examined how effective Traditional Thai Massage was in treating muscle spasticity, functional ability, anxiety, depression, and quality of life in stroke patients, versus conventional physical therapy (Thanakiatpinyo, et. al. 2014). The results showed that both Thai Massage and physical therapy both helped decrease muscle spasticity, functional ability, and quality of life. Yet, Thai Massage was the only modality that significantly decreased anxiety and depression.
Cerebral Palsy is a neurological condition that is the result of abnormal brain development or brain injury. While it can occur prior to birth or during labor and delivery, each person with cerebral palsy will have varying levels of functionality. This can range from being completely immobile to only needing a minimal amount of help with daily tasks. Individuals with cerebral palsy may experience:
- Physical limitations and loss of function and mobility
- Difficulty with muscle coordination, control, tone, and reflexes
- Difficulty with balance and posture
- Fine or gross motor skills challenges
A 2015 study published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand concluded that “Thai Massage decreased muscle spasticity and is suggested to be an alternative treatment for reducing spasticity in young people [6-18] with cerebral palsy” (Malila et.al. 2015). Although treatment and therapy can help manage the effects it has on the body, the damage to the brain is permanent.
People with diabetes may experience lack of balance, coordination, and muscle weakness. Peripheral neuropathy, also common amongst diabetics, is nerve damage resulting in a burning or tingling sensation, particularly in the hands and feet. Thai foot massage, which uses thumbs and reflexology sticks, has been shown to be beneficial for diabetic patients with peripheral neuropathy. Results of a study performed at Khon Kaen University showed that “Thai foot massage is a viable alternative treatment for balance performance, ROM of the foot, and the foot sensation in diabetic patients with peripheral neuropathy” (Chatchawan et. al. 2015).
Knowing the benefits of Thai Massage outside of increasing or restoring flexibility, opens up opportunities for bodyworkers to help a wider array of clients. Whether performed in a Traditional Thai Massage, or in conjunction with western therapies, our clients will benefit from our greater understanding of the applications of this modality.
Are you interested in studying Thai massage? Come to join me in Koh Samui, Thailand for the Thailand Healing Arts Retreat in June 2019! Learn more by clicking here!
Chatchawan, U., Eungpinichpong, W., et al. (2015). Effects of Thai foot massage on balance performance in diabetic patients with peripheral neuropathy: a randomized parallel-controlled trial. Med Sci Monit Basic Res. 2015; 21:68–75. doi: 10.12659/msmbr.894163. PMID: 25892354.
Malila, P., Seeda, K., Machom, S., Eungpinithpong, W. (2015). Effects of Thai massage on spasticity in young people with cerebral palsy. J Med Assoc Thai. 2015 Jun; 98 (Suppl 5): S92–S96.
Thanakiatpinyo, T., Suwannatrai, S., Suwannatrai, U., Khumkaew, P., Wiwattamongkol, D., Vannabhum, M., Kuptniratsaikul, V. (2014). The efficacy of traditional Thai massage in decreasing spasticity in elderly stroke patients. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 9, 1311–1319. http://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S66416