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Controversial Thai Massage Therapy Issues

Thai Massage leg stretch

Thai Massage issue #1 – leg focus

Most typical Thai Massages in Thailand are full body sessions with the bulk of the time spent on the legs. If you have special requests, let’s say shoulder work, the therapists will always agree.

But they will almost always still do a regular full body session with a heavy focus on the legs, and maybe spend a few minutes extra on the shoulders.

The emphasis on leg work in Thai Massage

The one area where the Thai therapists shine is the legs. This is where they spend most of the session time, and this is where they have the most techniques.

Thai Farmers
Thai rice farmers

Many people (generally non-Thais) have wondered why there is such a focus on the legs in Thai Massage.

I have often heard the theory that the reason is that the Thais have traditionally spent a lot of time in the fields and on their legs, and that is why they need the leg work.

There are other theories around as well, but in this article I want to focus on my own point of view.

Working on the legs is certainly very beneficial, and Thai Massage is excellent for that. However the issue is that with our changing lifestyles there has been a shift that needs to be reflected in Thai Massage.

The shift from rural work to urban life styles

modern day Thailand
Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is quite a modern city

I live in Chiang Mai which is the center of the Thai Massage universe with countless Thai Massage schools and massage shops all over town.

Chiang Mai is a big city and nobody works any fields here. People sit in their cars, they have office jobs, and they spend lots of time sitting in front of the TV. So the leg theory is certainly not applicable here, but regardless the Thai Massage therapists all focus primarily on the legs.

Sitting on chairs all the time spells trouble for the upper body

sitting causes upper body problemsWhatever the reason for the lower body emphasis might have been, today it is a tradition which is being maintained without taking our changing life styles into account.

The fact is that today’s jobs are mostly in sitting positions, which means that the upper body is negatively affected.

Shoulders slump forward, the spine is out of alignment, the neck is stiff and the hips are tilted unnaturally. These are all results of sitting in chairs all day long.


A balancing shift in my Thai Massage work and teaching

Thai Massage shoulder stretch
Thai Massage shoulder stretch

My personal focus in my Thai Massage practice and teaching has shifted towards more upper body work. A high percentage of the therapy requests of my clients have been issues with neck, shoulders, and back.

This doesn’t mean that leg work is less important. What it means to me is that it makes sense to shift a higher percentage of my work to the upper body to balance out issues which are created by our life styles.

This has been confirmed to me by my clients countless times over the years by what kinds of problems they have and what they request.

I certainly agree that leg work is very important, and that Thai Massage does a great job with it. In my mind it would be even better if those Thai Massage therapists who can do such a great job on the legs could do an equally good job on the upper body. But this is often not the case.

Sometimes I really feel that I need serious hands-on work on my shoulders, let’s say. My experience has been that this is not as easy to get as good leg work here in Thailand, and often just plain impossible.

This is something I have balanced out in my style of Thai Massage work.

Thai Massage issue #2

Full body sessions versus specific therapeutic work

Most Thai Massage therapists have learned a full body routine, and that’s what they do over and over again on every client. 

There is certainly a benefit of working on the entire body. However there is something wrong with only doing full body routines because the therapist lacks the skills to work out specific problem areas.

There are not many therapists in Thailand who can really focus therapeutically on a specific area and work the blockages out.The average Thai Massage session in Thailand is very much a one-size-fits-all affair. Everyone gets pretty much the same treatment.

Here is my official disclaimer so that I won’t be accused of over-generalization: Of course there are therapists who are able to do excellent and specific therapeutic work, but they are a small minority compared to the one-size-fits-all therapists and their cookie-cutter sessions.

Thai Massage should be creative and flowing, not rigid

There are also Thai Massage therapists, generally from the western world, who absolutely insist that the entire body has to be treated in order to get good results. I don’t agree with this idea since it contradicts my personal experience of working on clients for the last 16 years.

Just to be realistic – doing a full body Thai Massage session and spending lots of time on a particular area is often not possible within the limited time of the session. This goes especially for the western world where two or three hour sessions are not very common.

Specific therapy solutions

I have developed specific therapeutic treatment approaches to deal with individual problem areas in great depth, like shoulders, neck, knees, hips, feet, or even conditions like sciatica.

Many times you can work out problems in the body if you just spend enough time on them. Often I will work for an entire hour only on the shoulders, or the knees, or the hip, or the neck, and I have seen very positive results from this approach.

Letting the clients have their say

What do the clients think about that? If I find out that someone has a specific problem I  ask my clients if they prefer a full body session or detail work on their specific problem area, and I let them decide. In almost all cases they choose to have the specific localized work done.

There are therapists who insist that clients often don’t know what is best for them and the therapist knows better. While this might be true in some cases, I can only speak from personal experience.

When I get a massage, I can’t stand it if I want a specific kind of work done or focus on one area, and the therapist doesn’t do it.

I feel that it is my session, my money, and the therapist should work for me, and not pursue their own agenda. Consequently, when I do sessions I listen to my clients and ask for their input – and they appreciate this.

Okay, so you need to be creative and adaptable and able to work on specific problems. The only thing is that you really have to know how to do such specific and detailed therapy work. This is rarely taught in your average Thai Massage school. However it IS taught by Thai Healing Massage Academy.

Thai Massage therapy video courses

It’s of limited use to theorize what should be done without having a useful method to do something about it. In this spirit, here is what I can offer.

Over the last 16 years I have created a series of Thai Massage therapy video courses that show you in detail how to work on specific areas of the body. These are therapeutic applications that I have used successfully for many years, and that have shown excellent results consistently.

The solution to your training and skill requirements

20 Thai Massage online courses published

My company and my life’s work, Thai Healing Massage Academy, offers a convenient and cost effective solution to acquire such specialized skills and take your career to a higher level. 

If you want to stand out from the sequence following therapists, if you want to have the skills to help your clients with their particular problems, if you want to become successful with Thai Massage, then this will go a long way in helping you to get there.

Take a look at our library of 20 Thai Massage online video courses and you might find that this is exactly what you need to build up Thai Massage skills which will totally transform your career.

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The author, Shama KernThe author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 online Thai Massage video training courses. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 18 years.

2 thoughts on “Controversial Thai Massage Therapy Issues”

  1. I think it is a great idea to be flexible and adjust your technique to the needs of the population. I also see more upper body issues than anything else doing Swedish massage in a spa. There is a real thing now called “Text Neck” which is a documented dysfunction caused by the head forward position of looking at a smart phone or other digital device for extended periods of time. Check out this article:

    • Hi Niko, I would like to read the article you mentioned, but the link which you posted opens up one of my course video modules instead of the article…

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