The Thai Traditional Medicine practice of using hot herbal compresses goes back to the ancient knowledge of healing properties of plants and herbs and their application on the body. Herbal Compress Massage is also referred to as Herbal Ball Massage, Hot Herbal Ball Massage, Herbal Poultice Massage, or Herbal Stem Massage. In Thailand, the herbal compress is commonly called Luk Pra Kob.
Thai herbal treatments are commonly used to soothe and to relieve pain and tensions. Important in the application are the selection of herbs with therapeutic qualities, such as plai (Zingiber Montanum), ginger, turmeric (Curcuma Longa), kaffir lime, camphor, castor oil, tamarind, and lemongrass. The exact choice of herbs depends on the goal of the treatment or massage.
If you want to know more about the specific herbs mentioned here above, just check out our post with more details about their therapeutic benefits and working.
In any case, the procedure for a Herbal Compress Massage is as follows: a mix of dry or fresh herbs is wrapped within a (cotton) cloth and made into a manual compress, then steamed in a bamboo or electrical steamer, and when hot or warm, applied by pressing, gliding, or smearing it on the (clothed or unclothed) body in circular, linear and/or rolling movements, which is usually referred to as a Herbal Compress Massage treatment.
An alternative procedure is to heat the herbs — and sometimes also several herbal and essential oils — separately in a pot or pan, then pouring them into a cloth which is then bound into a wrap/compress to apply i.e. press on the body of the receiver.
Mind, however, that a Thai herbal compress can also be applied cold instead of warm. Cold herbal compresses are typically used in cases of swellings, inflammations, redness, and sensitivity of body tissues or body parts. This may be the case shortly after injuries when one starts to notice the effects of sprains, tears, or twists, and so on.
Herbal compress treatments are very popular in Thailand, can be obtained virtually everywhere, and its popularity is rapidly increasing in Western countries. The herbs used are often cheap and easy to find, and the treatments are effective. It’s the heat, by steaming, that is said to release both the aromatic and medicinal properties of a compress.
By some, it’s believed that Hot Herbal Compress Massage was first introduced by Indian monks in Thailand at the time of the gradual spreading of Buddhism. Others say that Luk Pra Kob simply originated from local folk medicine and recipes were passed on from generation to generation for thousand of years.
The technique can offer a variety of health benefits such as stress relief, relaxation, alleviation of fatigue, soothing painful, sore or tired muscles, tendons and ligaments, increased emotional and physical well-being, improvement of blood and lymph circulation, and internal organs stimulation.
Herbal compresses may also alleviate skin conditions, arthritis, and migraines, depending on the type of herbs applied. In a more general way, the heat of hot herbal compresses stimulates the blood circulation (which reduces muscle tension, promotes healing, and boosts the immune system), triggers the lymphatic system and opens up the pores of the skin, while promoting sweating and detoxification.
Sometimes the technique is used as an integral part of a Thai Massage or Thai Abdominal Massage treatment to warm up and open up the body before a session, and to soothe after a session. Another popular application is to soothe and re-energize the body, abdomen and internal organs of women in the afterbirth postnatal i.e. postpartum period.