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How is Thai Massage Different From Western Massage?

Thai Massage differs from western massage in its approach. In the West 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 East, Thai Massage is based on an energy model like most Asian therapeutic systems. There is little interest in clinical data or documented research regarding its effects. 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, but most of them are oil massages where the client needs to undress and the therapist uses oil on the body.

So here are the main differences:

  • Work space in Thai Massage: floor mat, carpet, or folded blanket will do
  • Work space in Swedish massage: massage table
  • Thai Massage: client is fully dressed
  • 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 energy body
  • Therapeutic focus in Swedish massage: physical body
  • Thai Massage therapist tools: hands, elbows, forearms, knees, and feet
  • Swedish massage therapist tools: hands, elbows, forearms
  • Thai Massage techniques: stretching, rocking, applying pressure, kneading
  • Swedish massage techniques: stroking, gliding, kneading

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 which is not so easy with Swedish massage.

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 pictureThe author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 16 years. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 online Thai Massage video training courses.


4 thoughts on “How 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. 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.

  3. 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).


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