Traditional Thai massage exists in many forms and one ancillary technique developed from this practice uses herbal compresses or “Luk Prakob,” which has existed in Thailand for hundreds of years. The Thai herbal compress is purported to leverage a heat compress in conjunction with specially selected herbs to combine the benefits of applied heat (to improve blood flow), herbal ingredients (as anti-inflammatory agents), and aroma (to induce relaxation) to give a unique treatment that relieves muscle sprains and joint pain.
A systemic review of the Thai herbal compress was published earlier this year in order to test the efficacy of the technique and determine the full extent of its clinical effect. The authors of the article were able to conclude that the heat application from the herbal compress bestowed the majority of the benefit, with the herbal benefit depending largely on the type of herb used, the preparation, and the purpose. For instance, the consumption of some herbs like turmeric extract is known to be as effective as ibuprofen for treating knee osteoarthritis.
While the efficacy of the topical application of these herbs is still being studied, the authors concluded that the Thai herbal compress could be considered as an alternative treatment option to alleviate certain symptoms from osteoarthritis, muscle pain, and as a treatment of choice to induce lactation. They were also keen on the benefit of the Thai herbal compress for those who need to avoid potential adverse effects of contemporary treatments that use NSAIDs.
Thai herbal compresses are approved and listed on Thailand’s National List of Essential Medicines and are provided for therapeutic and rehabilitative purposes in most of the country’s public health service facilities. For the future, the authors recommended further study on the herbal benefit in addition to streamlining the herbal component through standardization and good manufacturing practices in order to better quantify its effects in studies.
Until then, the Thai herbal compress is a form of integrative and complementary medicine in the United States that is practiced by traditional massage therapists and in centers for complementary medicine.
If you are in the Fairfax, Virginia area, come by one of our Chaan Thai Massage locations to try a Thai herbal compress for yourself, a perfect repose for this chilly winter weather!
Dhippayom T. et al., Evid. Based Complement. Alternat. Med. 942378 (2015). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4377500/.