Thai Massage has numerous health benefits – some of which have been explored scientifically, others are yet to be explored through the lens of empirical study. One such area of study that has begun is looking into the effects Thai Massage has on bone health. Specifically, the majority of studies examine its effect on postmenopausal women, for obvious reasons.
The studies that I’m referencing here are both measuring the acute changes in bone resorption and bone formation, by way of evaluating the biochemical markers of each of those processes. In other words, bone density is not being measured directly in these studies, but indirectly (meaning that the level of evidence is a little diminished compared with direct measures).
If you would like to read the studies, here they are:
Without delving too deeply into the results (you can look them up above!), Thai Massage demonstrated a positive effect on biochemical markers of bone density and formation. By this, we can hypothesize that our treatments have the potential to positively influence bone density and could therefore be considered a valid treatment option or adjunct therapy for people with osteoporosis and low bone density when performed with adequate training.
But Are You Sure?
The short answer is no. I think it’s important to be clear on the limitations on the studies done! However, today I’m going to ask you to humour the idea of it being possible for now. Through this lens of possibility, let’s take a look at the possible mechanisms behind the observed increase in markers of bone mineral density.
1. Loading of the bones
We always hear about the fact that load-bearing activities are good for bone health, but what exactly happens in bone loading to make it beneficial? The soft tissue [read: muscles and connective tissues] all pull on the bones. We are designed for movement, and so our body is designed to work best when our bones are being pulled on.
But why is pulling on the bones good?
Osteoclasts, which basically dissolve your bones (which by the way, is entirely normal and good) are partially regulated by the local electrical charge. When the connective tissue pulls on the bone / periosteum, it induces an electric charge in the surface of the bone. The majority of osteoclasts live close to the surface of bones. This electrical charge slows down the osteoclast activity and therefore slows the rate of bone demineralisation. And when it comes to postmenopausal women and those with low bone density, this is an important thing to help manage the condition and improve bone density.
I know what you’re thinking: Ghrelin is a peptide that plays an important role in appetite regulation and energy homeostasis! Yes – you’re right! It is. You were thinking that, weren’t you? Well anyway, more recently it has also been shown to directly regulate bone formation.
Interestingly, it’s also been discovered that massage leads to a significant increase in the production of Ghrelin. So not only does a Thai Massage treatment make you hungrier, you also get stronger bones!! That’s a pretty sweet deal if you ask me – you get to eat more delicious food and you’ve just strengthened your body! Win-win.
This note on Ghrelin also highlights the profound importance of infant massage, especially in premature babies – more Ghrelin = better appetite and bone formation = more nutrition = healthier babies!!
Not only is a Thai Massage treatment a blissful experience, it’s also an incredibly healthful one as well. Just so you know, the participants in the studies received two 2-hour massages each week for 4 weeks. That might help you decide how often you’d think of coming if you’re working on improving your bone health.