Pain and Thai Massage | Cultural Differences

Published: Dec 4, 2019 | Updated: Nov 16, 2021

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Cultural Differences With Experiencing Pain in Thai Massage

It’s often thought that a Traditional Thai Massage treatment session hurts, and there’s certainly some truth to that. Well, it can hurt, depending on the style and goal of Thai Massage applied and depending on the state of the body of the receiver.


There’s this good old expression in Thailand, accompanied with the famous Thai smile, saying:”Good pain!” We all know this in the West where we have a kind of similar expression: “No pain, no gain!” By the way, “good pain” is pain that only exists during a specific treatment action or session, and doesn’t last. It’s pain in the moment, and not long-lasting pain. It’s pain that often appears when you work on body parts where there’s excessive muscle tension or contraction, among other causes.

Yet, throughout the years, giving sessions and training courses in a variety of countries in Asia, Europe and South-America, I’ve come to see that there’s more to the pain-thing than just experiencing or inflicting pain. There are distinct differences between cultures and countries in what exactly is considered pain, and moreover, if a massage treatment or bodywork should be painful or not.

Of course, there are always individual differences, but I don’t talk about those. For example, some people already experience a muscle stretch as extremely painful and something dangerous that will “break their body,” yet others find it very relaxing to feel the tension of a deep stretch and don’t associate it with pain at all.

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In Asia

So, in Asia for instance, there’s the general idea that traditional massage should be painful, for else it’s not considered a good massage. I’ve been asked several times in Thailand (by Thai clients) “what the heck I was doing,” when I didn’t go deep enough, that is, if it wasn’t painful for the receiver. Traditional massage is generally considered therapeutic in Asia, so, it should inflict “good pain” (what isn’t really seen or experienced as real pain) to be of a healing quality. People in Asia usually want to “feel something.”

In Germany

In Germany, on the other hand, clients want to avoid any form of pain. Usually for Germans, if a massage hurts, it’s not a good massage at all. The idea there’s that a massage session should be relaxing, soothing. It has cost me enormous effort, again and again, explaining my German clients that they will most likely experience pain receiving my treatment. Explaining them that I work therapeutically, exercise a “tough” Thai Massage style, and what’s more, that considering the state of their bodies, things at some points during the session will be “uncomfortable.” Needless to say, that I “lost” many German clients before they had ever experienced a treatment of mine.

In France

Yet another example I’d like to give is the situation in France. French clients generally realize that a Thai Massage treatment can or will hurt, they don’t like that at all, but they have very much adopted the “No pain, no gain” slogan. And although the French need continuous reassurance from the therapist, it made it much easier to give sessions in France than in Germany.

And Finally

I could give you more examples of the cultural differences in pain related issues, like for instance with the Spanish, Brazilians or Dutch, but I think by now you’ll have grasped what I wanted to convey. Pain, wanting it or not, accepting it or not, and even feeling it as such or not, very much depends on both the expectations of individual clients and general expectations of clients in their cultural context.

Realizing that, is of vital importance for a therapist. Adapting to your type of clients, their individual and cultural expectations and knowing how to deal with pain-issues is primordial to becoming or being a successful Thai masseur or healer.

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