My Thai Massage: A Lesson In Pain

By Carolann

It started with pain. With each cracking sound of my back I grew more concerned and within 5 minutes of the hour long torture session which, for some reason, I was paying for, I questioned exactly what I had said that brought me to this point and to the discomfort I wasn?t positive was going to end.

I?m sure I pointed to, and asked for, the neck, back and shoulder massage with coconut oil NOT the traditional Thai massage which was advertised with terrifying photos of women being held in ridiculously uncomfortable looking positions. But maybe, just maybe, I wasn?t clear.

Crack, crack-crack-crack. I hear the masseuse giggle at the constant noises coming from what I assume?is the joints of my ribs and spine. “It?s a good pain, yes?” she asks after noticing the grimace on my sideways-turned face. I attempt a smile and close my eyes praying?this is?just the prelude to a relaxing back rub. It wasn?t.

I thought back to the naive me of 10 minutes prior, walking through the curtains separating the front area from the four massage tables clustered to one side. That ‘me of the past’ was excited to be getting a back massage after months of riding on the back of a scooter, curling up in airplane seats and stiffening up during long bus rides.

Added to the body punishing travel, each place we stayed had a different version of what a comfortable bed should feel like, with very few matching my own. So it was only natural that I would be eager to get some of the knots worked out and for $13 per hour I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity.

As the masseuse climbed on the table and hovered above me I was brought back to the present. The smell of the menthol oil, the thin sheets above and below me, the silence from my friend receiving a massage on the table beside me. Wait! Surely she should be experiencing a similarly painful massage? But there were no noises that would indicate any torturous activity was occurring and certainly no giggles from her masseuse in response.

Positioned over top, leaning all her weight onto her hands as they pressed down on my back, the masseuse pushed harder forcing my rib cage walls together, leaving my breath to escape in a whoosh-like sound.

A few more cracks of my back with the whole of her weight pressing down and she steps down from the table and starts a more gentle exploration of the numerous knots around my upper back. It was in that moment that I found some hope that the massage was turning tide and would morph into the relaxing event I had in mind when I stepped into this den of pain.

Unfortunately, that was just before I felt her elbow dig its way underneath my shoulder blade.

Started From the Bottom… Cracking the Joints
ckassical thai massage

Photo credit/model: Sophie Oliver

Needless to say, the remainder of the back massage was as painful as it started and when she asked me to flip over I no longer held on to any false hope of gentleness to come. This time every crack was intentional as she endeavoured to workout each joint in my body from my little toe to my neck, the latter being the most horrifying and unexpected part of the entire procedure.

The quick snap of my head to one side had me letting out a yelp of surprise and fear. Laughing at me again, the masseuse told me to relax and not to tense – as if having one’s head rapidly snapped to one side is a commonplace?occurrence?not warranting the extreme fear that was now coursing through my body. Slowly twisting my head to the other side, she patted my shoulder and I?tried to relax for what was to come, knowing that it could not be good to be braced tight. With one final motion she had cracked the other side of my neck leaving me wondering if paralysis was instant or if I could expect it to kick in at any moment.

I didn’t have too long to contemplate as what followed was a series of stretches even more uncomfortable and awkward than the aforementioned photos of the advertised Thai massage had?portrayed. Legs, back, arms -?no joint was left un-cracked, no muscle un-stretched, and all the while my tormentor was?obviously enjoying the gasps?of surprise and grunts of pain as she went.

An hour after it began, cracked, twisted and stretched, I was informed that the massage was over?and I was allowed to dress in relative privacy as I attempted to regain my composure and keep my mind off of the unpleasant sensations now distributed, fairly equally, throughout my body.

As I left the curtained-off area, I was offered a seat, given some hot tea and told that since I had so many knots in my back, and she had to work them out so much, that I would most certainly feel pain the next day and concluded that I would benefit from one more session before I left the island. Luckily I was leaving the next day so that wasn’t even an option.

Leaving the spa with my friend, who looked far more relaxed and comfortable than I did, I debated whether it was the massage itself that was painful or my obviously knotted and apparently decrepit body that was the real source of the pain. Never in my life had a massage given me so much discomfort or so much fear and I reminded myself that I had paid for it. Sure, only $13, but perhaps that was the going rate for a session of torture?

As this was my first massage in Thailand, I’m certain it isn’t representative as the vast majority of people with whom I spoke, claim only good things. Perhaps the massage was beneficial, perhaps the pain served purpose but for the next few days I definitely felt the pain she spoke of and unfortunately was left to try and ease the discomfort on a 3 hour ferry ride, followed by a 2 hour bus ride, a 5 hour wait at a train station, the 11 hour train ride to Malaysia and the hour or so it took by ferry and foot to get to our hotel where I could finally lie down straight.

If there is a next time, I’ll?make sure it’s not before a long day of travel and?should I smell menthol oil wafting my way, I’ll probably decide to make a mad dash out the door.


24 replies
  1. dannielle
    dannielle says:

    Haha, I had a similar experience in Chiang Mai! I thoroughly enjoyed the Thai massage I had in Bangkok, but when my friend and I booked in for a day of treatments up North, they mistook us for a couple, tried to get us to take ALL of our clothes off, and submitted us to a very sore hot stone treatment!

    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      Ouch! I guess I’m glad that I missed my chance to get a massage in the north!! It may have been worse! It’s funny though, I didn’t point to, or pay for, the Thai-style massage so I wonder what would have happened if I had!!

  2. Anne O'Connell
    Anne O'Connell says:

    It’s really a shame that you had such an unpleasant experience. I love Thai massage, although I prefer an oil massage because the range of skills and experience of a Thai massage vary widely and you don’t know what you’re going to get until that first painful elbow in the hip! And, I always stop the hands that grip my head just before the ‘head twist’ and politely say, mai yaak kha (don’t want thanks). Next time ask for a massage ‘bow bow’ (very soft).

  3. Moulder
    Moulder says:

    The article has all the essence that makes one visualize the scenario to make up their mind. All the praises to the writer to his writing skills.
    Now, coming to the topic, well I remember when I first had a massage (about 4 years back), I too had to suffer the pain for about 2-3 days. And that moment I thought that why on earth, the people pay for torturing themselves..I was in the same situation as yours!
    But now I take massage every month at least once….Tables Changed!! How?
    So, the mistake I did was that first time I took the massage (It was a Traditional Chinese One), being masculine I tried to show myself strong and never feed my response to her from the moment one! My body was not used to getting massage and so the muscles won’t take too much pressure (same like doing 50 Kgs lifts on day one of your training.. you can imagine what will happen to your body for next 5-7 days :) ).
    It’s all about pressure, for newbie’s or people who take Massage very rarely, one should mention it to the masseuse and you can see the difference. Massage can create a little pain while you are having it, but that is to relax the knots that are developed due to stress on muscles, it needs a little pressure.. Normally this kind of pain will not last for more than 1/2 an hour (and that too is sweet).
    I have taken nearly all kinds of Massages that are popularly known and BELIEVE ME ALL HAVE DIFFERENT ADVANTAGES and PLEASURES.
    Just take care to talk to your masseuse if you are unable to bear the pain in the first go only, she will do it with less pressure and you will be alright! :)

    I think the masseuse union should make my massages free if they are listening…LOL

  4. Michelle | michwanderlust
    Michelle | michwanderlust says:

    I really like Thai massages actually (oil massages, not so much cos I just feel like I have to shower immediately)! I feel like it’s a good kind of pain cos my back is really weak from sitting all day in front of a computer. Once I had a backache that lasted for days and was so bad I had to take painkillers. I tried a bunch of stuff but the only thing that worked was going for tuina (a form of Chinese massage, like Thai massage but far more painful). Since then I’ve been a believer! But I have plenty of friends who can’t stand Thai massage and prefer more relaxing massages too.

  5. SM
    SM says:

    Can’t call it torture… It’s down to personal preference. I for one think it’s the most wonderful experience. I love the manipulation and the relief it brings.

  6. Anita
    Anita says:

    I really feel good after these massages and am getting rather addicted..can remain hungry but not without therapy from. Which I have benefitted a lot..puts vigor into the stiff body

  7. Bobby Johnson
    Bobby Johnson says:

    Hi Carollan, I have suffered neck and back pain multiple times, and I discovered that most common causes of neck pain include: Too much time hunched over?for example hunched over a steering wheel or your laptop or your smartphone which is very common today; Sleeping in a position that causes strain in the neck such as sleeping on a pillow that is too firm or too high; Carrying a heavy object like a suitcase on one side of your body; Any trauma that causes a strain in the neck such as falling and landing on the top of the head. However, simple remedies at home like applying ice packs, use of epsom salt and apple cider vinegar or even a nice massage over a hot shower can help to alleviate the pain.

  8. fbm spa
    fbm spa says:

    Regular chiropractic visits may help maintain bodies at the high level of activity to which they have become accustomed and even aid in function allowing the body to self-heal when proper alignment is achieved and maintained.

  9. Audrey
    Audrey says:

    Hi Carolann, I just came out of a massage session in Bangkok and I must say that you made me laugh to tears cos this (your sharing) is exactly how I feel

  10. Home Massage in Sydney
    Home Massage in Sydney says:

    Massage helps to restore muscles to their correct position. When I first started getting a regular massage about a year ago, my masseuse told me that I was starting to get a dowager?s hump. As she worked with me monthly, the hump became less and less. Now it is totally gone

  11. Winnie Loh
    Winnie Loh says:

    I love my Thai massages and always ask for “Nak Nak”. And I love elbow digs, they are the best. Yeah, you call me a masochist

  12. Kara-lianne
    Kara-lianne says:

    Hahaha I lmao the whole time I was reading this as my husband had the same experience! He was in pain the same day and the day after, but the second day after his massage is when he felt great! He suffers from migraines and the Thai massage was the only thing that gave him relief. Now he tries to book a traditional Thai massage whenever he starts getting migraines again.


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