Is Thai Massage better than Swedish Massage?
Now that’s a pretty controversial question, and I hope it’s not taken the wrong way. I have many Registered Massage Therapist friends and colleagues and I believe their work to be wonderful and effective and get many treatments of my own. But one major difference between these two modalities is that one is covered by health insurance and the other isn’t [very often].
There are multiple reasons for this, one being that the standards of education are vastly different but another is the relatively strong scientific research that has been done that validates the efficacy of Swedish Massage, whereas Thai Massage has been far less studied, and even more rarely studied with rigorous scientific method.
However there are indeed a few studies that pass selection in Cochrane Review – the highest standard of scientific exploration. For the full Cochrane Review article in question you can download it right HERE.
In this review a total of 13 studies of massage (different modalities) related to low-back pain were analyzed. There were some very interesting results that beg the question of further research. Some of the results that we’re particularly interested in are:
On the measure of low-back pain, Swedish Massage performed better in the short term, yet Thai Massage showed slightly more favourable results in the long-term. These results are not significant, yet it highlights a trend worth further investigation.
The second outcome measure was in function, and Thai Massage tended to produce even more favourable results than Swedish both in the short and long term, though once again these differences were not statistically significant.
Another, and perhaps the most interesting result was related to acupressure techniques. Though these were not classified as part of Thai Massage for this review, we commonly employ acupressure techniques (static pressure) throughout a full treatment, which is one of the main differences between Swedish and Thai touch techniques. In these results there were statistically significant differences between Swedish Massage and Acupressure (called acupuncture massage in the study). This in particular highlights greater opportunity for studying and understanding the differences between Thai Massage and Swedish.
Through this preliminary comparison we can safely say for the specific measures of functional and pain improvements related to chronic low-back pain, that Thai Massage and Swedish Massage are equally effective with the suggestion of even greater improvements! There are of course many more considerations before we can definitively evaluate this, but for now this is a great start.
It’s my personal hope that this fuels greater investigation, documentation and validation of Thai Massage as a therapeutic modality. I believe that our beloved practice should (and will) become a part of health plans, creating greater accessibility to this healing art.
I would love to hear your thoughts below as well as your own personal experiences comparing Swedish and Thai Massage!