Gaining a physical fitness edge with Thai massage

Massage has been widely used as a part of warm-up and recovery techniques in sports, with studies published showing the ability for massage to decrease muscle soreness, increase flexibility, improve blood flow, and increase a sense of well-being. Although traditional Thai massage has been used by soccer players in Thailand to help enhance their physical fitness for years, until recently there had been little supporting evidence of such a benefit.

A study published earlier this year investigated the immediate effects that Thai massage has on physical fitness in soccer players. Results from the study showed that a single session of Thai massage could provide improvements in physical fitness and flexibility in the athletes and possibly those in other sports. The study brought in 34 soccer players who were randomly assigned to receive either rest (control group) or three 30-minute sessions of Thai massage over a period of 10 days. Seven physical fitness tests consisting of sit and reach, hand grip strength, 40-yard technical agility, 50-meter sprint, sit-ups, push-ups, and VO2 max (oxygen consumption) were measured before and after Thai massage or rest.

All the physical fitness tests showed some improvements after a single session of Thai massage, whereas only the sit and reach and the sit-ups tests were improved in the control group. The authors looked at specific Thai massage benefits that could account for the positive changes in physical fitness scores. For starters, they found supporting evidence that massage associated with myofascial (tissue providing support to muscle and bones) trigger points increased the body’s flexibility in patients with back pain. Improved flexibility could improve the results in tests measuring sit and reach, agility, and 50-meter sprints. Next, since Thai massage has been found to increase muscle blood supply, it may allow muscles to receive more oxygen from blood and provide sufficient nutrients to the muscles. In strength and endurance exercise, an adequate supply of oxygen is essential for peak performance.

Finally, the authors believe that Thai massage may also provide psychological benefits promoting recovery. In the study, players who received a massage reported sleeping well and recovering from fatigue quickly. On the day after a massage, these players described feeling very fresh and performed well on agility and sprint tests.

Last week, an article in Circulation was published presenting evidence against the widely spread notion that 30 minutes of physical exercise a day is enough to gain an edge over heart failure. The authors in that paper found that there was significantly improved risk reduction in those individuals who performed twice to four times the minimum recommendation.

Because Thai massage was shown to reduce muscle tension and increase blood flow, it’s likely that Thai massage could have similar effects on individuals outside of sports and can contribute to the general public’s ability to sustain a more rigorous workout regime. For those seeking to increase their physical activity level each week to match the new recommendations outlined in the Circulation article, Thai massage could be a key factor in gaining a physical fitness edge.


Hongsuwan et al., J. Phys. Ther. Sci. 27(2):505 (2015).

Pandey et al., Circulation doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.015853 (2015). 

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