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The No-Pain-No-Gain Myth In Thai Massage

The no-pain-no-gain myth in Thai Massage

I have often heard this myth that Thai Massage is painful. But, after working on countless clients over the last 20 years, nobody ever told me that my sessions were painful.

My wife has been doing Thai Massage sessions for as long as I have, and nobody ever complained that her sessions are painful either.

Both of us have put many hundreds of clients into a wonderful trance-like state with our sessions. So then – what’s this ‘painful Thai Massage’ all about?

You will find out the facts about this pain issue when you watch the revealing video below. This knowledge is essential for any therapist since we will all be confronted with this issue throughout our career.

Where does this pain myth come from?

What’s the reason why many people think that Thai Massage is painful?

The answer is that Thai Massage is only painful if the therapist is not sensitive.

The idea that Thai Massage is painful is one of the myths that is often told about Thai Massage.

Actually it is several myths in one.

Myth #1

There are some people who believe that if it’s not hurting, it can’t be therapeutic. That’s called the ‘no-pain-no-gain’ theory.

Wherever this idea came from – it certainly should not be applied to Thai Massage.

Myth #2

That’s the idea that the harder you press, the more therapeutic it must be.

However, this one is just an excuse for being insensitive.

Thai Massage is not necessarily more therapeutic just because you press harder.

In some cases, deeper pressure can be beneficial for therapeutic work, but if pressing harder results in the client resisting and tensing up, then you get the opposite result.

Myth #3

This one is a kind of self-deception.

There is a category of therapists who hide their lack of refined skills and their lack of sensitivity by claiming that Thai Massage is supposed to be painful.

That’s a convenient, but bad excuse. Why? Because it’s not true!

I remember once I was reading a forum post by a Thai woman who practices Thai Massage in Switzerland.

She was proudly stating that Westerners cannot handle ‘real’ Thai Massage, which is supposedly “very painful”.

This type of attitude is often found among native Thai therapists in Thailand and abroad. But it is still just an excuse for being insensitive or even brutal.

There are Thai Massage therapists who are not well-trained and have never developed much sensitivity in their hands. And they, of course, can easily cause unnecessary pain.

Is there any truth in the ‘painful’ Thai Massage myth?

Some degree of discomfort in a massage session can be normal and acceptable.
But wait – didn’t I just say that Thai Massage is not painful? Am I contradicting myself now?

Let’s look at this issue from a couple of angles.

Here are the facts. Thai Massage is not painful by nature. However, it is potentially painful, and there are three reasons:

  • Thai Massage includes a lot of stretches, and if you (the therapist) are not very sensitive, it is quite easy to overdo them.
  • Thai Massage therapists often work with elbows, knees, and feet. Again, if you are not very skilled and sensitive, it is easy to cause pain – for example by pressing your elbow into someone’s body.
  • Many Thai Massage therapists have only had very basic training. All they know is a sequence of techniques that they apply to all their clients – a one-size-fits-all session.

    They have never learned the real subtle art of intuitively working with people, of listening to their client’s bodies instead of just doing something to them.

However, pain is not necessarily always bad. There is such a thing as ‘good pain’.

What’s the difference between good and bad pain?

Here we are getting into the subtle art of understanding and managing pain or discomfort in Thai Massage therapy.

There really is “good pain” and “bad pain“. How do we tell them apart and how are they defined?

Good pain:

Feels releasing
Its intensity is diminishing
You can relax into it
It feels controlled
It feels like it is accomplishing something positive
It feels beneficial and therapeutic

Bad pain:

Feels sharp
Feels oppressive and getting worse – the opposite of releasing
Feels like it could cause injury
Makes you tighten up and resist
You cannot relax into it
It feels uncontrolled and possibly dangerous

The art of Thai Massage

The art is that good Thai Massage therapists have to know the difference between good pain and bad pain and make sure to never cause bad pain.

Developing this skill takes experience, intuition, and the ability to listen with your hands instead of just doing something with them.

The bottom line is that Thai Massage is not painful by nature. Actually, Thai Massage can be done in a very gentle way so that you can put your clients to sleep.

How to learn Thai Massage as a healing art

Learning to work in such a sensitive, intuitive, and creative way takes more than just a basic Thai Massage course.

Thai Healing Massage Academy provides all the training you could ever need to become such a sensitive and skilled therapist, and you can conveniently learn it right from your home.

If you don’t know much about Thai Massage, you can enroll in our free introductory video series from the form below this article.

If you know that you want to learn the entire system of Thai Massage then check out our Complete Thai Massage course which has helped thousands of therapists and yoga teachers learn this beautiful art.

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The author, Shama Kern, founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy, with his wife

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

Related Reading:
The 5 Myths Of Thai Massage
Thai Massage Contraindications

15 thoughts on “The No-Pain-No-Gain Myth In Thai Massage”

  1. I’m a massage therapist that normally likes to feel pain when receiving a massage, because my muscles are so tight that I really had benefit especially with stripping/milking technique.
    I think that if the receiver can breathe throught the pain and doesn’t hold the breath you can go a little bit over the limits also with the thai massage…wich means over with the stretching

  2. shama this is very good i like it because i am wrestling in india that time every day similar thai massage we each other wrestler guy

  3. Dear Sharma and all,
    Thank you for your videos and dedication to Thai Massage I find always very informative.
    I am agree with this video about pain my only concern is that it is not have been taken into consideration the fact that very often is not the therapist but the client who ask for deeper and deeper pressure even though when they cannot handle it.
    Thank you again for your dedication.

    • This is true, Isaac, that the client may be the one who is asking for stronger pressure. However if the therapist only applies “good pain” by working slowly and sinking into the muscle with body weight instead of muscle power, and by checking with the client via the one-to-ten questioning method, then we can accommodate the client without going too far.

  4. Well…i m curios now, Shama what do you mean for one to ten?
    I would say that in a session if i ask to focus on neck and back i spend one hr on neck and back…i think it s also the duration in certain area that need just more work…cause if you dedicate 5 min on neck and you go deep or you only do some stretching…the client is gonna have still pain…but speding the whole time in the areas that needed you are gonna make the clients feels great for a longer period of time

    • Monica, the one-to-ten method is a very useful way of giving the client a way to express the level of intensity of the massage in numbers. I teach this system in detail in my courses. However I didn’t invent this – many therapists are using a version of the one-to-ten method.

      And yes, if the client has an issue in a particular area, I spend more time on it, sometimes the entire session like in the case of neck work for example. I have often done sessions where I worked the entire time on the shoulders, or on the back, or on the feet, or on the neck. Massage doesn’t have to be a whole body session necessarily every time.

      I just gave my wife a long back-only massage because that’s what she really needed and wanted! :)

  5. I am Karunesh/Yoga & Poweryogateacher/M/53 from India. I want to learn your Thai Yoga Massage course. I read your mail to me about the course. Just tell me wheather you are taking any exam for passing out the course, before certification, as it is very necessary.

  6. Dear Shama,

    At first, I need to say, I’m very glad I have found your site!

    So,my question (the first, but not the last!) is about the “whole body session”..

    Wherever I have studied before, I have heard: “You can make focus according your client’s needs, but as it Thai massage, all body must be touched”.. That’s about the Sen Sib. (And, honestly, I’ve this way taken for myself, and like it) And what I mean now. When we use to touch any extra area, have we give “more western type of Thai massage” ?

    • Hi Alena, I am glad you like my site! :)

      I have never subscribed to the idea that you must always do a full body session – for the simple reason that many times it takes most or all of the session to work out an issue somewhere in the body. There just isn’t enough time to do real therapeutic work and work on the entire body in every session.

      There are other massage modalities here in Thailand which only work on specific areas of the body, like Thai Foot Massage (only feet) or Chi Nei Tsang (only abdomen).

      In most massage shops here in Thailand you can get sessions which focus on specific areas like the back, or neck and shoulders, or neck, head and face.

      I agree that it is beneficial to work on the entire body. However working only on a certain part of the body is not “westernized massage”. It is done here in Thailand just as well.

      Sometimes you just have to be practical. If a client only books one hour and has serious back and shoulder problems, you just won’t have time to do a full body session AND work effectively on the back and the shoulders.

  7. Hi Shama, My normal oil massage has improved a great deal since applying your slow and sustained techniques to it. I agree with you in that there is a ‘relieving sensation’ with correctly applied pressure.
    Also – your article on ‘fancy techniques’ is somewhat of a relief to me to read. Whenever you tell anyone you do Thai massage they instantly think you will walk on them or their experience isn’t ‘complete’.
    Thanks so much for your valuable input and for dispelling these ideas.

    • Sheila, I received similar feedback from other readers who were relieved that they were not expected to perform fancy acrobatics on their clients. Actually, in my 15 years of doing Thai Massage I have never once “walked” on any client, and I don’t like therapists walking on me.

      I think the walking thing is mostly an invention by small and light therapists to get the maximum power out of their bodies for working on much larger clients. But there are other and better ways of doing this which do not require doing a tap dance on someone’s back. :)

  8. You said that Thai Massage shouldn’t hurt but then you said that discomfort was normal and said that good pain is okay.

    What does good pain feel like though? You didn’t really specify that in the article. Using the 1-10 scale, what number is usually acceptable and good pain?

    The reason I ask that is because hearing about their being any pain at all is still really off putting, scary and upsetting to me. I don’t know if I really believe in “Good Pain”. All pain is “Bad Pain” for me.

    I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) if you ever heard of that before and I also have Aspergers (Autism) and I am EXTREMEYTLY sensitive to all sensations, even good ones. I get very easily overwhelmed and don’t like most sensations lasting more than a short time and/or being more than light.

    Most things other people can handle I can’t and most things other people see as not painful or good pain I see as painful and bad pain.

    I am an omega wimp and don’t like even a spec of pain in any way, shape or form. So I don’t know if I would be willing to even give Thai Massage a try unless I can be guaranteed that it can be 100% pain free.

  9. Christopher, I actually did explain very specifically what ‘good pain’ feels like in the article. There is a section titled ‘Good Pain’ which lists 6 elements of ‘good pain’.

    There is no way to guarantee that Thai Massage is totally pain-free. The same goes for any kind of massage. Massage in itself is not painful or pain-free. This is determined by how the therapist works and by your reaction to it.

    As you explained, you are highly sensitive to pain. Therefore you could not just go to any Thai Massage therapist, but you had to find one who understands you and who can work on you in a very sensitive way and with a very gentle touch.

    This is certainly possible – in Thai Massage or in any other massage. But not every therapist is able or willing to work in this way. The reasons for this are explained in detail in the article.


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