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In Which Way Is Thai Massage Different From Western Massage?

thai massage vs western massage

Thai Massage differs from western massage in its approach. It is not just a different style of massage with different techniques. There is an entirely different philosophy behind it.

Different approaches of Thai Massage and Western massage

In the Western world, massage is highly regulated, and a lot of emphasis is placed on anatomy and physiology, scientific studies, observable effects on the body, research, and clinical data.

In the Eastern world (Thailand specifically), Thai Massage is based on an energy model like most Asian therapeutic systems.

The Thai people have much less interest in clinical data or documented research regarding the effects of massage. They are more results-oriented. If people like how it feels and if it helps them, that’s good enough for them.

Let’s generalize a bit and use Swedish massage as the model for Western massage. Clearly, there are many more modalities. However, most of them are oil massages, meaning that the client has to be undressed by necessity while the therapist uses oil on the body.

Thai Massage vs western massage comparison

Here are the main differences:

  • Workspace in Thai Massage: floor mat, carpet, or folded blanket will do
  • Workspace in Swedish massage: massage table
  • Client status in Thai Massage: client is fully dressed
  • Client status in Swedish massage: client is undressed
  • Privacy requirement in Thai Massage: none, can be done in full view
  • Privacy requirement in Swedish massage: total privacy required
  • Application in Thai Massage: no oil is used
  • Application in Swedish massage: oil is used
  • Therapeutic focus in Thai massage: balancing the energy body
  • Therapeutic focus in Swedish massage: physical body
  • Therapist tools in Thai Massage: hands, elbows, forearms, knees, and feet
  • Therapist tools in Swedish massage: mostly hands, also elbows and forearms
  • Techniques in Thai Massage: stretching, rocking, applying pressure, kneading
  • Techniques in Swedish massage: stroking, gliding, kneading

Ease and flexibility aspects

Thai Massage has the advantage of greater flexibility compared to Swedish massage since it can be done anywhere – in your living room, in the park, or on the beach.

No oil or draping sheets or massage table is required, and since the client is fully dressed, privacy is not an issue.

You can give someone a little ten-minute Thai Massage without any preparation. This is not so easy with Swedish massage which requires more preparation.

Another major advantage of Thai Massage is that the therapist can make use of hands, forearms, elbows, knees, and feet, thus saving the hands from overuse which is more of an issue in Swedish massage.

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author's picture

The author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for over two decades. He is the founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 online Thai Massage training courses.

4 thoughts on “In Which Way Is Thai Massage Different From Western Massage?”

  1. hello good day…im studying swedish massage w/ combination of thai, im asking for you to teach me or i want learn mor about massage so that i can give a good @ satisfaction to my client…thank you @ GOD bless you.

  2. Thanks for this short but precise explanation of the differences. On point you missed is that Thai Massage can be more painful (but then I guess that’s up to the massage therapist).

  3. Unfortunately this is a myth. We could restate your observation that “Thai Massage” is POTENTIALLY more painful. There is not doubt that it is much easier to cause pain with many of the big stretches that are part of Thai Massage, or with the elbow, knee and foot work.

    This also means that a Thai Massage therapist has to be more sensitive because he or she is dealing with potentially more painful techniques.

    However Thai Massage is not more painful by its very nature. There are just many insensitive and not very well trained therapists around who stretch too far, press to hard and contribute to the painful reputation of Thai Massage.

    But the fact is that you can do Thai Massage in a very gentle, sweet way which puts your client into a trance without any pain whatsoever.


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