Thai Herbal Ball Massage: What You Need To Know

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Discovering new treatments can be intimidating. The experience can be hit or miss but the Thai herbal ball massage is a personal favorite because it was a uniquely relaxing experience and a treat for the senses. Here’s what I learned from the session.

What is a Thai herbal ball massage? It is a massage therapy that targets pain relief and inflammation for the muscles. Thai herbal ball massage also restores the balance of the body’s qi. The Thai herbal ball treatment uses  a mix of 6 or more herbs wrapped in cotton cloth. It’s heated then used as a tool to work the knots in the tight muscles of the body. The therapy is ideal for treating muscle pains and arthritis especially during  cold weather and for treating upper respiratory conditions.


Thai Herbal Ball Massage

As its name suggests, the massage technique originates from Thailand.

The technique is called Luk Pra Kob and translates as “herbal pressing sphere.”

The treatment was first used by Buddhist monks during the 14th century to treat injured soldiers returning from battle.

The Thai herbal ball massage method uses an herb mix wrapped in cheesecloth (aka thai herbal compress balls).

It is then steam-heated which draws the essential oils out of the herb mixture.

The treatment is rubbed onto the skin during the massage.

This brings relief to aching muscles, helps to heal bruising, and soothes the skin.

Alternatively, it could be placed directly on the body’s sore spots.

Doing this helps the body absorb the alkaloids from the herb mix.

The 6 basic ingredients for a Thai herbal compress ball are lemongrass, prai, turmeric, kaffir lime, camphor, and tamarind leaves.

The herbal compress ball can be used all over the body including the face.

These herbs all have anti-inflammatory, astringent, anti-oxidant, and anti-microbial properties that help restore the body’s health.

The herbs are aromatic and add to the whole massage experience.

It can be described as indulgent and healing.

The herbal ball massage is a popular treatment in Thailand.

You can get a massage at the massage school in the Buddhist temple complex of Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand.

Depending on where you live, you might be able to get a Thai herbal massage at your local massage parlor, high-end spas or wellness centers.


Thai Herbal Ball Massage Benefits

Like most touch-based healing modalities, Thai herbal ball massage benefits the mind and the body by providing relaxation and pain relief.

Aside from these two, here are additional benefits.

1. Helps heal bruised, sore muscles and ligaments.  

The heated herbal ball is applied as a compress to sore areas.

This is especially good for the neck, shoulders, and upper back.

The herbal balls release its essential oils and medicinal properties which penetrate the skin.  

Add the pressure from the massage and you have a more relaxed body and less soreness after an hour’s session.

A study has looked into the effectiveness of Thai herbal ball massage.

The study found both massage and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs reduced osteoarthritis pain.

The results also showed a higher rate of pain reduction for the massage compared to NSAIDs.

2. Relaxation and relief to recharge your energies.

The combination of touch therapy and the soothing scents of aromatherapy create a calming effect.

This effect restores balance to your senses and energy.

The therapist works the herbal balls along the meridian lines and acupressure points of the body to stimulate and unblock qi.

This helps to create balance and harmony in the body.

3. Improves lymph drainage and blood circulation.

An added benefit of the restoration in your qi flow is the consistent lymph drainage and blood circulation.

A fully functional lymph drainage keeps the toxins flushed out of your body and boosts your immune system.

A healthy lymphatic system keeps you from infection, inflammation, and getting sick.

Improved blood circulation, on the other hand, leads to increased energy and vitality.

More oxygen-rich blood reaches your brain and organs.

This makes your body perform at optimal levels.

It also gives skin a healthy glow and helps cells regenerate faster.

4. Cleans, heals and strengthens the skin.

Some ingredients in the herbal ball mixture also have skin-clearing effect.

The turmeric, pria, and tamarind leaves have astringent and anti-inflammatory effects which heal and soothe skin issues.

The astringent properties of the herbs heal minor skin irritations while the pria root stimulates cell growth to strengthen the skin.

5. Aids in healing upper respiratory ailments.

The herbal ball can be customized to address respiratory ailments like bronchitis, the common cold, asthma, and sinus congestion to name a few.

Peppermint and camphor are commonly added to the herb mix for a comforting scent that also helps to clear congestion from coughs and colds.

Bonus: A study has also found the use of the herbal ball was effective in inducing milk production in nursing women.


Is There Any Scientific Backing For Thai Herbal Compress?

Four Thai Herbal Compress Balls Beside The Ingredients And A White Towel

As noted in benefit number 1, Thai Herbal Ball massage was compared to traditional Thai massage and oral Ibuprofen to treat osteoarthritis in the knees.

In the 2014 controlled trial, 60 patients with osteoarthritis were randomly assigned treatment of Thai herbal ball massage, traditional Thai massage, or given oral ibuprofen.

The massages were done 3 times a week while the medication was taken 3 times a day.

Three weeks of treatments produced positive results for all three modes of treatment.

The massages showed comparable results to the oral medication treatment although the most significant improvements were found in those that took part in the the Thai herbal ball massage group.

The effectiveness of the treatment shows traditional touch therapy and aroma therapy can be used either as an alternative treatment or a complementary one for existing osteoarthritis therapies.

Bonus: With Thai herbal ball massage or traditional Thai massage, you are not taking anything that may cause negative reactions with other existing medication you may be taking or conditions you already have.


Who Is The Massage Recommended For?

Thai herbal ball massage is recommended for anyone of average normal health.

The massage is performed with some stretching techniques.

The manipulation is helpful to achieve flexibility and full relaxation at the end of the session.

Some modifications can be done to fit the customers’ special needs–temperature and pressure–so it will be safe and enjoyable.


Who Shouldn’t Try The Massage?

The herbal ball massage isn’t recommended for people with uncontrolled diabetes and diabetic neuropathy; have skin issues and irritations; have allergies to plants and herbs; have high blood pressure; are pregnant; have varicose veins or recent wounds.

When in doubt, it is best to consult your doctor first.

You should also check the herbs used for the herbal compress ball to see if anything in it does not react negatively with your skin or any medication you may be taking.

See the ingredient list below.


Can The Herbal Compress Ball Be Used On The Face?

woman getting thai herbal compress massage on her for head

Thai herbal compress facials are available in some spas.

The facialist or therapist uses a smaller compress and and gently presses it on the face applying pressure to acupoints on the face, chin, and neck.  

The herbal compress balls is worked on the face as a tool to help flush out the lymph from the face leaving the skin lifted and toned.

It works similar to a Gua Sha facial massage.

Smaller versions of the herbal compress balls are available in online marketplaces.

Look for one that is labelled for the face.

The ingredients are essentially the same zedoary, turmeric, and prai.

Certain herbs are not added in the herbal compress ball for the face as it may produce an allergic reaction.

The excluded ingredientst are camphor and the peppermint essential oils (or similar).

Thanaka powder is used instead.

It comes from Myanmar and has long been part of the beauty routines of Burmese women.

It acts as an exfoliant to remove dead skin and works remove acne and other skin imperfections.

Curious to find out what else goes into an herbal compress ball?

Read the next part to find out.


Ingredients In A Thai Herbal Ball

The herbal compress is made from stuff commonly found in your kitchen.

Some items can be found at Asian supermarkets and the rest are only a few clicks of a mouse away.

Thai herbal ball ingredients include:

Ginger – the herbal compress uses zedoary, prai, and turmeric. Ginger has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger help to lower prostaglandin, a chemical in the body responsible for pain and inflammation.

Lemongrass relieves swelling and reduces fevers. It also has antioxidant properties and has a fragrant citrusy smell.

Kaffir lime the high dose of vitamin C in the lime strengthens the immune system and helps to clear skin irritations.

Tip: Breathing in the scents of lemongrass and kaffir lime helps you to relax more. A more relaxed you means a much less tense body the therapist has to work with.

Tamarind leaves also have anti-inflammatory properties and help to heal wounds faster. Tamarind leaves have an exfoliating effect as well, giving your skin a refreshed and glowing look.

Mangosteen has antioxidant properties and is rich in tannins. Tannins are natural compounds found in fruit and vegetables that help heal skin or irritation such as eczema.

Other items you will need include cinnamon, camphor (oil or powder), essential oils (peppermint, eucalyptus, sandalwood or similar), orange peel, and sweet basil. These also have medicinal properties but are added for the scent and aromatherapy effect.

Salt and rice powder are also added to act as a preservative and binder.

Here’s a good DIY video you can follow to make your own Thai herbal compress ball.


Thai Herbal Ball Steamer

The Thai herbal ball steamer is used to keep the herbal compress at the right temperature.

The herbal compress balls are placed in the steamer to steam-heat for 30 to 45 minutes.

This rehydrates the herbs, brings out the essential oils, and makes the medicinal components more potent.

The steamer also keeps the herbal compress balls consistently warm with its built-in heating plate.   

Several balls are usually used during a typical 1-hour session so spas and wellness clinics have herbal ball steamers in the room to keep a few herbal compress balls ready.

You can buy Thai herbal ball steamers in marketplaces online.

You can also use the following household items as alternatives:

  • A covered pot with a metal strainer
  • A rice cooker with a steamer attachment
  • A bamboo steamer over a pot
  • A microwave safe bowl with a cover


How To Heat Thai Herbal Ball

For at home massage treatments or compression treatments, you can steep the herbal compress balls in water for 45 minutes and steam for 15 to 20 minutes.

The initial 45-minute soaking is for plumping up the herbs when you use it for the first time.

After that, you can just re-steam the herbal compress ball before use.

It can also be microwaved for 3 to 5 minutes.

If you will use any of the alternative listed above to heat the herbal compress ball, make sure the pot you will use is deep enough to fill with water and will cover the herbal balls.

Be careful when heating your herbal compress ball, you can burn yourself with it.

Do not use the herbal compress ball immediately after steaming.

Let it sit for a bit and test on your arm to check if the temperature is bearable.


Where Can I Buy A Thai Herbal Ball?

Finding the ingredients for the Thai herbal ball can be difficult.

Some of the ingredients are exotic and you might not have access to an Asian supermarket.

If these were the case, you can buy ready-made Thai herbal balls online.

Here is our pick for the best Thai herbal ball.

The Thai SPA Herbal HOT Compress Massage Ball Therapy.

This product comes in a set of 5 and can be found on Amazon.

Each ball is 200 grams in weight.

What’s really great about this is the product ships directly from Thailand and is manufactured by a small family-owned business.

This means it is authentic – in its ingredients and in the way it was prepared.

A downside to this is the length of time it takes to ship the items stateside, sometimes it takes up to 30 days.

The long wait is worth it though. Another plus is the excellent customer service.

These herbal compress balls are also quality. The herby, aromatic scents last even if the compress balls were reused.

The instructions that come with the product detail how to steam the herbal compress ball.

Simply place the herbal compress balls in water to soak and rehydrate.

Microwave for 3 to 5 minutes, let it cool and then use as directed.

It’s also economical to use and reuse.

You simply air dry the compress and the place in a ziplock bag to store in the fridge.

For hygienic purposes, make sure to use different herbal compress balls for different areas of the body.

Have a separate one for your face.

It is also not advisable to share compress balls with another person.

The herbal ball may also be used as a cold compress for sprains, bruising, and other injuries that need cold therapy.

To turn your Thai SPA Herbal HOT Compress Massage Ball into a cold compress, rehydrate and steam as usual and let cool.

Once it’s cooled enough to touch, place in a ziplock bag and freeze.


Related Question

How long are the treatment sessions? A Thai herbal Ball massage usually lasts 60 minutes. Some sessions can extend to 90 minutes.

Why does a session take that long? Thai herbal ball massage aims to do 2 things: 1) To bring relief to tired, stiff muscles. 2) To rebalance the qi in the body. A shorter session will not be able to achieve the two and would be an unsatisfactory experience.

How often should i get a Thai herbal ball massage? This Depends on how tight or sore the muscles are. It’s recommended to get a Thai herbal ball massage at least once a month. Some even recommend every 2 weeks to start followed by once a month maintenance massages.

What should I wear during the treatment? Massage would be uncomfortable with clothing on. It is best if you remove your clothes. The therapists are professionals and will cover you up. Wear something loose-fitting if you’re not comfortable taking off your clothes during the massage.

What can I expect during a Thai herbal ball massage session? The aim of a Thai herbal ball massage is to bring you relief and relaxation. It is important to tell your therapist if the heat is too much or not enough. The same also applies with the pressure of the massage.

Can I eat before or after a Thai herbal ball massage session? A light meal before or after your session is allowed. If you get easily nauseated, as some do with scents, avoid taking anything. Water is encouraged to help flush out and drain the lymph and toxins after the massage.


References

Dhippayom T., Kongkaew C., Chaiyakunapruk N., Dilokthornsakul P., Sruamsiri R., Saokaew S. & Chuthaputti A. (2015). Clinical Effects of Thai Herbal Compress: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4377500/

Chiranthanut N., Hanprasertpong N. & Teekachunhatean S. (2014). Thai Massage, and Thai Herbal Compress versus Oral Ibuprofen in Symptomatic Treatment of Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4165631/

Editorial Staff
 

Editorial Staff at MindBodyPal is a team of experts led by Tyson Chiu. We love tacos, lattes and Funky Fridays.

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