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Thai massage: How does it compare to sports massage?

Updated: Jan 3



As with all complementary therapies, your choice of massage therapy will depend on the outcome that you wish to get. Thai massage has its origins in ancient Thai practises and is primarily designed to promote wellbeing, reduce stress and improve flexibility. While these outcomes can be achieved through sports massage, the latter also offers specific injury healing and prevention alongside a deep knowledge of how the human musculoskeletal system functions. Both have their place, but as we will see, you cannot expect the same results from both.


What is Thai Massage?



Thai lady getting a Massage
Thai Massage Vs Sports Massage

Thought to be at least 2000 years old, Thai massage is said to have originated in India and China and relies on philosophical thought as much as it does physical healing. Thai massage has been passed along as a type of oral tradition and has been heavily influenced by Thai customs and Chinese medicine – making the identification of a field of study very difficult. However, the practice and techniques are clearly defined.


A Thai massage therapist will use their entire body to carry out the massage. They incorporate their body weight and use their elbows, knees and hands to stretch, knead and deeply massage the body. The use of pressure-point stimulation is common and the body manipulation can result in discomfort following a session. Thai massage has been compared to a more passive form of yoga, with the body being pulled into positions and postures.


The benefits of Thai massage


Stress reduction


Stress is responsible for a plethora of health conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure, uncontrolled blood sugars and more. This makes the stress reducing power of Thai massage a huge bonus. All forms of massage are known to reduce cortisol and adrenaline production, resulting in peace and calm. Thai massage achieves this through touch and via the environment.


Improved energy and circulation


The Thai tradition believes in taking advantage of ten Energy Lines known as Sen Sib. These allow energy to move around the body. The movement of the body into specific poses allows for the flow of energy throughout the body and can lead to a feeling of increased energy and clarity.


Furthermore, circulation is improved via the continuous movement and stimulation of blood vessels – similar to exercise (but without the hard work).


Improved flexibility


Here, Thai massage is similar to sports massage as it can improve flexibility and mobility. The movement and stretching of muscles will lead to improved flexibility, especially if carried out on a regular basis.



What is Sports Massage?


Sports massage employs a range of massage techniques to improve and heal athletic injuries and reduce the chances of them recurring. The massage types that are used will depend on the type of injury and the desired outcome. In some cases, the requirement to produce deep tissue changes can cause sports massage to be uncomfortable, but as a scientific practise that is always evolving, it can produce impressive results.

With the focus on muscle tissue, ligaments and tendons, sports massage uses massages techniques that lean towards practical and physical improvements rather than relaxation.


Dating back more than 3000 years, this massage type was thought to have been used during the very first Olympics by Greek physicians to improve the performance of the athletes. These days, it is used by non-athletes as well as professional sportspeople to improve injuries that occur either from general everyday activities or from playing sports.


The benefits of Sports Massage


Increased flexibility


Like Thai massage, sports massage is ideal for improving flexibility and taking muscles to new levels of mobility. As athletes often push their bodies further than is comfortable, it is important that their joints and muscles are in peak condition and less prone to injury. Even for non-athletes, flexibility and mobility can reduce discomfort from arthritis and minor age-related knee or ankle pain.


Decreased injuries and pain


Reducing injury is useful for everyone – athletes or not. This is achieved through the use of massage to improve blood flow. As blood carries oxygen to the tissues, it helps improve the tissue health and can reduce the build up of lactic acid and inflammation – thus reducing pain. Body pain can also be caused by pinched nerves and surrounding tissue can increase how nerves react to pain. By reducing muscle inflammation nerve endings have less pain information sent to them and overall pain sensation decreases.


Better sleep and relaxation


While sports massage is not generally thought of as a relaxation massage technique, it does in fact produce better sleep and relaxation simply through the effects of reduced muscle tension and pain. The simple act of taking time for yourself and effecting change on an injury that may have plagued you for months can be enough to reduce anxiety and improve overall wellbeing.


Highly qualified practitioners


While Thai massage therapists undergo many months of training, it is based on traditional techniques and passed on knowledge. With sports massage, the training is focused on the interconnectivity of the musculoskeletal systems and a full understanding of how injuries are caused and the underlying issues. For people who rely on their body to be fit and well-cared for, it is important to know that their massage therapist understands how to create change without causing further damage.


The final outcome


For sportspeople and those with injuries, sports massage wins hands down in the massage games. The fact that the therapist is fully trained and understands the requirements of sportspeople is a huge advantage. If you are suffering with ankle problems, joint or mobility issues, sore or strained muscles or an old injury that just won’t go away, sports massage is the right place to start. However, it is important to recognise that a more gentle and relaxing massage that still provides fantastic flexibility and mobility results could be a good addition to your injury-healing sessions. The Circle 8 Massage team are very knowledgeable and experienced so book your Massage in Leeds today.