Thai Massage vs Swedish Massage

Published on: 06/05/24 | Category: 
thai massage vs swedish massage

It can be hard to know which type of massage to book when you’re ready to schedule a session at a Bay Area massage studio. Two of the most popular types of massage, Thai and Swedish, share similar foundations and principles but differ in their approach and techniques.

Thai Massage vs Swedish Massage: Which Is Right For You

The following information can help you determine whether a Thai or Swedish massage is right for you. Of course, remember that many massage therapists tailor their massage styles to your needs and comfort level. 

Both require individual education, training, and licensing

One of the first things to understand is that while they both fall under the “massage” umbrella, each one requires its own certification and licensing. 

Traditional Massage Certification & Licensing

The majority of Bay Area massage therapists have a general massage license, which means they are primarily trained in Swedish massage techniques - which include terms like traditional or deep tissue massage). Individual massage therapists may have additional training or certification for a specific niche such as sports medicine, acupressure, prenatal, etc.) 

Your traditional massage therapist may have been trained in certain aspects of Thai massages, but they only use surface-level variations of these techniques since Thai massage has its own certification process.

Thai Massage

Thai massage therapists undergo a separate training and certification process specific to Thai massage techniques. This education includes information about ancient healing practices from China and India. You may notice that your Thai massage sanctuary offers supplements, massage tools, or other items related to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Yoga.

So, these two certifications are like concentric circles. While Thai massage therapists can also offer traditional massage services, most traditional massage therapists cannot offer the full, traditional Thai massage experience because they lack specialized training and certification.

Responsive vs non-responsive massage

For a Swedish or traditional massage, you’ll lie down on a massage table, and the massage therapist manipulates your muscles and fascia (connective tissues) without much movement or participation from the client. The practitioner may manipulate the arms or legs, but not much. Because clients are wearing minimal to no clothing, there is an emphasis on modesty and respectful draping, which makes significant manipulations of legs and arms, or major shifts in position, impossible. In this way, other than experiencing the joy of a massage, a client’s experience is somewhat non-responsive. That’s very different from Thai massage.

Thai massage techniques are more active, which is one reason clients are fully dressed in comfortable clothes for the entire session. While you will be lying down on a mat for a significant portion of your session, you’ll also experience Thai massage techniques in sitting and kneeling positions. Your body will be engaged in ways it never is during a Swedish massage.

Clothed vs unclothed

That leads to another unique feature of Thai massage: you wear clothes during the session. We recommend wearing the same types of clothing you’d wear to a yoga, Tai Chi, or Pilates class. This allows us to work with you in various postures, poses, stretches and pulls without worrying about modesty. 

For some, enjoying all of the benefits of a traditional massage and more without exposing their body draws them to a Thai massage. The good news is that experiencing Thai massages helps clients become more comfortable with their bodies over time. This may mean you’ll eventually want to try other massage modalities with less reservation or self-consciousness.

You can enjoy targeted massage areas with Thai massage

Most traditional massage studios offer different variations of full-body massages. However, some clients only want to massage their upper or lower bodies. Massages have been integrated into Thai healing culture for so long (thousands of years!) that traditional Thai massage studios offer massages that primarily target specific body areas. 

For example, many of our clients opt to take advantage of our Office Syndrome Massage, which targets the mid and upper back, along with the neck and shoulders. Others start by trying our Thai foot massages, which combine ancient acupressure techniques with massage and include a wonderfully relaxing foot bath. 

Specific needs may drive whether to choose Thai massage vs Swedish massage

Swedish and Thai massage techniques benefit people of all abilities, shapes, sizes, and health conditions. However, it’s always good to check with your physician before trying Thai massage for the first time because of the additional moving, pressing, pulling, and gentle body manipulations used throughout the session. While all of these motions are done while the client is passive - in a relaxed state - it’s still essential that every movement is safe for their body and ability. 

When you come in for your massage, the massage therapist will speak to you about what brings you in, any areas of concern, and things they should know about you and your physical health. You’ll also complete a full intake form with detailed questions about your medical history and current physical condition. The movements and stretches may need to be adapted depending on your needs and goals. For example, seniors with arthritis or individuals with stiff joints may find Thai massage far more beneficial than Swedish massage in the long run. However, while Thai massages also relax and calm the mind, people looking for the “feel good at the moment” and relaxing massage experience may prefer a traditional massage so that they have nothing to do but remain still and enjoy the gentle sweeping pressure of the massage therapist's hands.

Chetawan Massage Sanctuary Uses A Variety Of Massage Techniques

The massage therapists at Chetawan Thai Therapeutic Massage can tailor your massage to your preferences. If you’re a traditionalist who’s curious about Thai massage but worried you may not like it as much as other massage styles, let us know. We can do a traditional massage that incorporates modest Thai massage techniques so you can get a feel for the difference. 

Most of our clients integrate Thai massages into their massage schedule, perhaps alternating every other massage or booking one Swedish massage for every two or three Thai massages to enjoy the best of both worlds. Are you interested in exploring the healing benefits of Thai massage? Schedule your first appointment with Chetawan.