Exploring the Benefits of Thai Massage for Athletes

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The Winter Olympics are underway! No matter what kind of competitor you are — a high school or college athlete, a weekend warrior on the 5K running circuit, an avid runner looking for a Boston Qualifier, or a regular at the rec center for pick-up team sports — watching the Olympics can inspire you to take action to achieve your own athletic goals. As so many athletes know, boosting your performance often means focusing on the little things that can make a big difference: consistent training, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting enough rest. Recent research also suggests that supplementary exercises that support strength, flexibility, and recovery can also improve outcomes for athletes by increasing overall physical fitness. One of the options you may want to consider is Thai massage.

Thai Massage vs. Sports Massage: What’s the Difference?

If you’re a competitive athlete, you may already make regular visits to a massage therapist’s office. In a sports massage, the therapist typically draws from multiple massage modalities — including deep tissue massage and neuromuscular massage therapy (NMT) — to specifically focus on an athlete’s performance needs. Depending on your individual needs and your training cycle, a sports massage may be aimed at loosening tension in targeted areas, improving blood flow so that nutrients reach recovering muscles after a tough workout, or directly promoting the healing of an acute or chronic injury.

However, Thai massage is different in that it functions more like a supplementary exercise session than a traditional sports massage. Over the course of the session, the massage therapist guides your body through a series of yoga poses while applying gentle pressure to your muscles. That means you get the best of both worlds — the strength, flexibility, and relaxation benefits of yoga, as well as the tissue-stimulating benefits of a pressure-based massage therapy session.

Why Athletes Are Choosing Thai Massage Over Traditional Yoga Classes

As an athlete, you’ve probably heard a lot about the benefits of yoga, but adding it into your already-packed training schedule can be tough. Not only is it hard to find the time to attend a yoga class, but it can also be hard to get the hang of it, and you may find yourself leaving a yoga class wondering if you really got any physical fitness benefits out of it. With Thai massage, this is no longer a concern. You have the massage therapist manipulating your body into the right positions, and they can also offer you guidance on your breathing as you move through each pose. That way, as you walk out of the massage therapist’s office, you know that you’ve made the most of the last 90 minutes of training time.

Scientific Evidence that Thai Massage Benefits Athletes

Anecdotal evidence from friends, teammates, and coaches can be helpful when you’re making training decisions, but more athletes today are looking for rigorous scientific evidence to support their choices. If you’re the kind of athlete who wants to know whether or not Thai massage worked for athletes in a research setting, you’ll be happy to know that several relevant studies have been published in the last few years.

In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, a group of researchers from Kohn Kaen University in Thailand found that Thai massage improved multiple measures of physical fitness in soccer players. In this study, 34 competitive soccer players were randomly divided into two groups. The first group received three thirty-minute Thai massage sessions over the course of a ten-day study period, while the second group merely rested between their normal training sessions. Before and after the study period, the soccer players underwent several common tests for physical fitness: sit-and-reach, hand grip strength, 50-meter sprint, sit-ups, push-ups, and a 40-yard technical agility course. Their VO2 max was also measured before and after the study. At the end, the group that received Thai massage therapy improved significantly on every single measure of fitness, while the control group only saw significant improvements in sit-and-reach and sit-ups.

Another study, published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research in 2014, examined the potential benefits of Thai massage for volleyball players, focusing specifically on vertical jump performance and flexibility in the knees and ankles. The researchers randomly divided 24 male and female collegiate volleyball players into an experimental control group (who received a 30-minute Thai massage, every other day for three days) and a treatment group (who rested). After each massage session, the researchers measured vertical jump height, knee flexion, ankle plantar flexion, and an ankle dorsiflexion, and they saw statistically significant improvements in all measures.

It is important to acknowledge that both of these were small-scale studies, so they don’t provide definitive evidence that getting a Thai massage will boost your performance. However, they do suggest that a physical fitness boost is possible. For athletes who don’t play volleyball or soccer, it’s also helpful to recognize that the scientists were measuring general fitness parameters, so Thai massage could very well help you take your performance to the next level in other sports as well.


If 2018 Olympics have gotten you excited about adding something new to your training regimen, Thai massage could be just the thing. Atlanta Chiropractic and Wellness offers Thai massage alongside a variety of other services that can benefit competitive athletes, including chiropractic care and other massage modalities. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!

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