Thai Massage is for More Than a Good Stretch

Thai Massage is for More Than a Good Stretch

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

Mental Health

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

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 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.



4 Reasons You Need Abdominal Massage

4 Reasons You Need Abdominal Massage

Re-post from PhillyAreaYoga
Massage Therapy is one of the most accessible forms of self-care. Our first instinct when we feel an ache or pain, is to touch, hold, and/or guard the area. Abdominal pain is common amongst children, adolescents, and adults alike for a variety of reasons. If there is no major medical illness present, massage therapy can help alleviate aches and pains. There are many types of massage and bodywork that have their own approach to abdominal health. Chi Nei Tsang, Thai massage, Mayan abdominal massage, and Swedish massage are just a few of kinds of therapies. Here are a few reasons why receiving regular abdominal massage is beneficial:
Relieves Low Back Pain
Therapeutic massage to the abdomen can help relieve low back pain from various sources. For example, women who experience endometriosis, dysmenorrhea, and other gynecological disorders may have pelvic pain that refers to the low back. Another source is post-surgical adhesions and scar tissue. This may result in weak or inhibited abdominal muscles. This can affect your posture and make low back muscles work harder to support your torso. This additional load to the muscles can cause low back pain.
Encourages Bowel Movements
Peristalsis is the rhythmic motion of the GI tract. It helps moves food through our intestines. Providing circular massage to the abdomen in a clockwise motion encourages peristalsis. This can be incredibly helpful for those with constipation. Constipation is caused by poor diet, not drinking enough water, and in some cases, it may be a side-effect of a medication. Abdominal massage increases the frequency of bowel movements, and can also reduce discomfort and pain due to constipation.
Great for Perinatal Care
Over the span of 40-weeks, a woman’s body changes drastically. The positioning of the growing uterus stretches the abdominal muscles, while displacing the lungs and other internal organs. It also creates a deeper lordotic curve (swayback) in the low back. This shift in posture can cause pain in the hips and torso region. This pain often doesn’t end upon delivery. This is often because the abdominal muscles are weakened. Postpartum abdominal massage can help reduce swelling and speed healing after a c-section.
Encourages Parasympathetic Response
When our body’s sympathetic nervous system or “fight or flight response” is engaged, the blood rushes to our skeletal muscles, our pupils dilate, our heart rate increases, and elimination temporarily slows. This is what happens in our bodies when we are either in danger, highly stressed, or experiencing anxiety. Biologically, our bodies don’t know the difference between being chased by a tiger or being late for work! It responds the same way in either circumstance. Massage therapy stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body to “rest & digest”. This system is responsible for allowing the body to digest food, assimilate nutrients, and eliminate on schedule. Abdominal massage provides non-judgmental touch to an area of the body so commonly neglected. This calms the nervous system and allows your body to relax.

Skill Building for Thai Bodyworkers Series: Four Common Foot Conditions

Skill Building for Thai Bodyworkers Series: Four Common Foot Conditions


Four Common Foot Conditions

With Vanessa Hazzard

Hello Healers!
Welcome to the second installment Skill Building for Thai Bodyworkers Series, featuring four common foot conditions. In this blog we will discuss:

  • Anatomy of the lower leg and foot
  • Common conditions you may encounter with clients
  • Thai massage foot techniques

As you go through this blog series, I encourage you to palpate the muscles and bones on your own body.

Quick Foot Facts

Each foot has:

  • 26 bones in each foot, 56 in total
  • The bones in the foot make up about ¼ the amount of bones in the human body
  • 33 joints and 107 ligaments
  • The foot has the highest amount of nerve endings per square centimeter than any other part of the body.

Depending on the individual, there are 19 or 20 muscles that control the foot. Some of these muscles originate on the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) and insert onto the foot via tendinous attachment sites. These muscles have several functions, which include:

  • Enabling the foot and ankle to move on various planes
  • Supporting the arch
  • Providing stability to support the rest of the body

Problems in the feet and ankles can contribute to pain the low back, hips, knees, and affect spinal alignment.

Common Foot Conditions

Pes Planus (Fallen Longitudinal Arch)
Flattening of the longitudinal arch of the foot. This occurs when the bone structure of the foot no longer supports the longitudinal arch. It affects gait and soft tissues of leg and foot.

Pes Cavus (High Longitudinal Arch)
 This is the opposite of pes planus.  It is an increased or exaggerated longitudinal arch of the foot. Tightness in the plantar fascia and the soft tissues on the plantar (bottom) surface of the foot draw the ends of the foot closer together.

This can occur over time when there is an increase of external friction on the distal metatarsal; causing a callus to form. The bursa (fluid filled sac) located at this metatarsal head becomes inflamed. In severe cases, a bone spur will form as well.

Plantar Fasciitis Inflammation of the plantar fascia- the connective tissue on the bottom of the foot. Inflammation occurs through chronic overuse. Increased stress due to high or fallen arches also causes inflammation of the plantar fascia. Pain is likely to be worse when weight is suddenly put on the foot after periods of rest. Pain may be particularly intense at the heel bone and the balls of the feet.

Thai Massage Theory & Techniques

Traditional Thai Bodyworkers often start supine at the feet, and then work their way up to the head. The sen line associated with the feet is sen kalathari. This invisible energy pathway goes from the tip of each toe, to the heel, up the legs, crosses in the abdomen, up through the arm pit, down the arms, and into each finger. Working this sen line relaxes not only the foot, but the body as a whole. The picture below is an example of how sen kalathari is often depicted in Thai massage texts.

Supine Techniques

Thumb press along sen kalathari. Start at the heel, then work up each toe.

Apply circular friction in between the bones of each foot.

Dorsiflex the foot by pointing the toes towards the head.

Plantarflex the foot by pointing the toes towards the ground.

Prone Techniques

Gently step on the bottoms of the client’s foot.

Thumb press along sen kalathari. Start at the heel, then work up each toe.

While trapping the toes under your hand, forearm roll the plantar surface of the client’s foot.

Circle and gently traction each toe.

Did you like this article? Check me out on social media and join my mailing list for more useful resources!

The Spine: S-Curve vs. J-Curve?

So I was perusing Facebook (as I normally do when I am procrastinating) and I came across an interesting article on the spinal curves of indigenous peoples vs. those of westerners. Acupuncturist Esther Gokhale, suffered from back pain and spent twenty years trying to figure out why. Ultimately, after spending time with indigenous peoples from various parts of the world, she noticed that they had no back pain. She attributed this to their J-shaped spine, which is a spine that is straight, minus a curve at the sacrum.
As practitioners in an industry where back pain is often a client’s chief complaint, I thought this to be quite eye-opening.  I’d like to share the article with you all and get your thoughts: