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What is a Thai Table massage?

Thai Table massage is an adaption of Traditional Thai massage techniques for recipients lying on a table.

Thai Table massage is a relatively new phenomenon. Historically, Thai massage practitioners performed Traditional Thai Massage on a floor mat. Thailand had no massage tables until recent decades. But even today, most traditional Thai massage practitioners in Thailand perform the massage on the mat.

Traditional Thai and Table Thai massage both utilize stretching techniques applied slowly in patterns of gentle rocking and rhythmic muscle compressions, joint mobilization, and acupressure points. Unlike Traditional Thai massage, Table Thai massage uses a standard massage table instead of a mat on the floor. But like Traditional modalities, both client and practitioner are dressed in comfortable clothing, allowing ease of movement and flexibility.

Thai Table massage has become popular because it fits nicely with Western massage modalities. Functionally, a therapist can perform many basic Thai massage techniques on a table, similar to a floor mat. So this massage is ideal for Registered Massage Therapists and Practitioners who already work on the table.

Floor Vs Table

The primary benefit of working on the floor is that practitioners can use their body weight, momentum, and gravity rather than muscular strength. This advantage allows a small practitioner to apply substantial leverage and locks using their body weight. So whereas the average career span of a massage therapist is between five and seven years due to joint injury and burnout, Thai techniques allow therapists of any size to perform effective, deep-tissue massage without the risk of injury or exhaustion. And Thai techniques preserve the health of therapists’ wrists and thumbs.

More importantly, a hard mattress on the floor gives practitioners stability for stretching movements while moving smoothly like a dance.

Many Northern-style Thai Massage stretching techniques are challenging enough to practice on the floor and require the utmost equilibrium of the practitioner. Although practitioners can jump on a massage table to attempt these stretches, most tables are too narrow and have soft surfaces to be secure enough for advanced stretches. These techniques might cause a high risk of injuries to both the receiver and the giver.

The final advantage of working on the floor is that it feels very different for the client. Traditional Thai massage feels “grounded.” There is something natural about being on the floor rather than a table. Being on a mat provides an intimate and pleasant connection to the ground.

One downside of working on the floor is that a mat requires more room than a table. Many treatment rooms at clinics or spas need to be larger to accommodate a massage mat and a table. Or if the room is large enough, the business may need more time to change the room from one style to another.

A second potential problem with working on a mat is that Traditional Thai massage requires the practitioner to have mobility and flexibility. Standing at a table requires less mobility from the practitioner. Working on the floor can be harder on the practitioners’ knees and back if they are not used to kneeling or sitting on their heels.

Ultimately, the choice to work on the table or the floor is up to the practitioner. The core traditional Thai massage work, including Jap Sen, Tok Sen and Herbal Compress work well on the table. But practitioners lose the efficiency of some Thai massage techniques, especially those that require strength or stability when they move to a table. And some Thai massage techniques are outright dangerous if performed on a table.

Tools for Table Thai Massage

Thai Table massage requires many of the same supplies as regular massage, including:

  • Fitted sheets
  • Chair
  • Bolster(s)
  • At least one pillow
  • Blanket
  • Massage clothing

The most essential tool is a proper massage table. Thai Table massage requires a sturdy massage table. In Thailand, some practitioners use sturdy massage beds built specifically for Traditional Thai massage. Unlike a Western massage table, these Thai massage beds are more like a platform and less like a table. The beds are very low, about 30 to 45 cm (12 to 18 in) high, for easy access. They are usually built with sturdy wooden legs or made as a platform. And most important, they are extra wide, about 110 to 120 cm (42 to 48 in).

Western massage tables come in a variety of sizes. First, you need to decide if you want a portable massage table or a fixed massage table. Thai Table massage has very different requirements than regular massage and generally requires a wider, studier table that a practitioner can adjust for height. A portable massage bed can be folded and carried from location to location and usually weigh much less. But this convenience comes at the cost of being less sturdy and adjustable than a fixed table.

The working weight of a massage table is the amount of weight the table can hold. It is important to note that this is the weight distributed throughout the length of the table and not any one section. You calculate the working weight by combining the weight of the practitioner and the client. Whereas the maximum working weight of a lightweight, portable table may only be 200 kg (400 lbs), heavier tables can support 350 kg (750 lbs) or more. Thai table massage requires a practitioner to place more weight on the table than during most ordinary massages, so a heavier table is preferable to a lightweight table. 

Not only must your massage table be wide and long enough for recipients to lie comfortably on it, but it must also accommodate Thai massage techniques requiring more space. The standard size of a massage table is typically 75 cm (30 in) wide by 180 cm (72 in) long, but massage table widths can vary from 65 to 90 cm wide (25 to 36 inches) and lengths from 180 to 210 cm (72 to 84 inches). And as Thai massage techniques often have the arms and legs of a client outstretched for applying acupressure, a larger table works better than a smaller table. 

Equally essential is that the massage table have an adjustable height. Most massage table heights are adjustable from 55 to 95 cm high (22 to 38 inches). Ideally, a practitioner should set the massage table to its lowest height, as Thai massage involves a fair amount of stretching. But practitioners with less mobility must adjust the table height depending on their ability to do the techniques comfortably.

The final factor in deciding what massage table is best for you is deciding what padding will keep your clients the most comfortable while accommodating Thai massage techniques. The thickness of massage table padding ranges from 5 to 12 cm (2 to 5 inches). As a practitioner requires stability to do more advanced stretches on a table, more firm padding is preferable to the thickness needed for Western massage. If you choose soft padding, you should not attempt any Thai massage technique that requires balance.

The angle of the headrest should allow for a straight neck and spine. The recipient’s head should not hang forward so that it is pulled or compressed. So with most tables, a practitioner is best angled forward at slightly more than 180 degrees. But a practitioner must always ask the recipient if they are comfortable before working in the prone position.

At Sirius Health

We have built our treatment rooms at Sirius Thai Massage Clinic for performing Thai massage on the floor, and our personnel have the knowledge and skills of traditional Thai massage to maximize the benefits of working from the floor. We offer Table Thai massage courses for RMTs in our school, but most of our certification, advanced and standalone Thai massage courses honour the original practice of Thai massage on the floor.

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