Thai Massage for Athletes

by Jun 21, 2021

What exactly is a Thai massage?

Thai massage is like a combination of assisted yoga and a compressive massage.  It’s a specialized modality in which a massage therapist uses therapeutic stretching and compression techniques.

While Thai massage offers many of the same benefits as other massage modalities, its enactment is quite different from most types of bodywork.  With Thai massage, the person receiving treatment wears loose fitting clothing or workout attire for the entire session.  The massage is usually performed on the floor, as opposed to a table, and there is no use of lotions or oils.  In addition to the use of their hands and arms, massage therapists will also apply compression and stretches with their feet and legs.  And instead of lying in a stationary position, the client is actively involved in the Thai massage.  Watch the video below for a helpful visual!

 

Between reading the introduction and watching the video, you may know a little bit more about Thai massage than you did previously.  And you may have noticed that the title of this blog includes the word athletes, so let’s talk about them too!

Massage in general should be part of any athlete’s fitness plan.  A tough workout tightens the muscles and massage loosens them up!  But with all the different types of massage out there, why exactly should an athlete consider Thai massage?

Sports Massage Vs Thai Massage

If you were to guess what the ideal massage for athletes would be, you’d likely think of sports massage.  And you wouldn’t be wrong!  It’s no surprise, judging by its name, that sports massage is an excellent treatment for a roughed up athletic body!

However, sports massage tends to target one, or just a few, muscle groups per session.  Depending on the exercises or sports practiced, an athlete usually has a specific area of the body that needs all the attention.  For example, some common injuries a running back may encounter include ankle sprains, pulled hamstrings, and knee injuries.  A sports massage for a running back might focus on the legs alone…even though a typical game of football pummels every part of the player, not just his legs.

Contrarily, the goal of Thai massage is to open the entire body, not just the area that needs the most help.  The assisted stretching, pulling, and rocking motions of a Thai massage create space between the bones, tendons, connective tissue, and nervous system.  The space created allows for improved blood flow, which provides muscles the nutrients they require for decreased risk of injury and quickened recovery time.

And oftentimes a sports massage is a fast-paced and rigorous treatment.  A pre-event sports massage shouldn’t make you want to melt into the massage table!  That body needs to be pumped before it gets back to the game!  But when athletes aren’t about to head back to the gym or out to the field, they can benefit from something slower and more relaxing without losing the interactiveness.  Though an athlete is still actively involved in Thai massage stretches, the approach is gentler.  For this reason, it’s best to receive Thai massage on a rest day.  Maybe don’t hit the basketball court immediately after a Thai massage.

Flexibility and Athletic Performance

You may have read the section above and thought to yourself, “Wait, all types of massage improve circulation and release tight muscles.  What exactly makes Thai massage an ideal treatment for athletes?  Your answer is flexibility enhancement.  The blend of stretching and massage easily releases muscular adhesions.  Once the muscles relax, they lengthen and become more flexible.  Now what exactly can an athlete gain from bettered pliability?

The four categories of fitness include cardio, strength, balance, and flexibility.   Flexibility, though less talked about than cardio and strength, is vital to optimal athletic performance.  How so?  For starters, inflexible muscles tire more easily, which increases risk of injury when other muscles compensate for the limitations.  And increased range of motion, as should be a given, improves athletic performance.  If you lack upper body flexibility, your golf swing will show it.  If your hips are stiff, that attempt at a split won’t go well.  Flexible muscles get the job done better.

All aspects of fitness complement one another.  By preventing muscles from tiring too quickly, good flexibility aids endurance during strength and cardio exercises.  Through its ability to improve posture, flexibility also facilitates balance.  So, when Thai massage eases the body into bendy yoga poses, it’s actually promoting all the categories of fitness!  Sounds like the ultimate massage for an athlete!

The Takeaway

When receiving any type of massage, not just a Thai massage, the maximum benefit comes from a full body treatment.  That’s not to say that an athlete should never approach the spot treating of a sports massage.  When vital muscles are out of whack, maybe the pecs for a swimmer or the calves for a soccer player, they might need all the focus if the athletic event is near.  But spot treating shouldn’t be the only bodywork an athlete receives.  The body performs best when all the muscle groups help each other out.  So, if you’re an athlete, treat your entire body to a relaxing yet active Thai massage.  Your balance, strength, and cardiovascular health will be grateful to your improved flexibility.  And your athleticism will thank the four categories of fitness!

Katrina Jenkins

Katrina Jenkins

Author, Licensed Massage Therapist

Katrina Jenkins graduated from Towson University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and worked as a nurse’s aide briefly before pursuing her true passion. She graduated from the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in April 2016 with honors and completed the Touch of Healers Scholarship Program the following summer. She has been a part of the Moyer Total Wellness Team since the summer of 2017.

Resources

Buttagat, V., Eungpinichpong, W., Chatchawan, U. and Kharmwan, S. (2011). The immediate effects of traditional Thai massage on heart rate variability and stress-related parameters in patients with back pain associated with myofascial trigger points. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 15(1), pp.15–23.

Juntakarn, C., Prasartritha, T. and Petrakard, P. (2017). The Effectiveness of Thai Massage and Joint Mobilization. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, [online] 10(2), pp.3–8. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5495387/.

Micheo, W., Baerga, L. and Miranda, G. (2012). Basic Principles Regarding Strength, Flexibility, and Stability Exercises. PM&R, 4(11), pp.805–811.

Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT, D.R. (2018). Thai massage: 5 benefits and side effects. [online] www.medicalnewstoday.com. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323687#benefits-for-athletes.

Photo Credit

Canva by Yan from Pexels

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