Thai Herbal Compress Massage

Thai Herbal Compress Massage

Thai herbal compress…from folk way of life to an art of therapy

In the past, Thailand was a fully agricultural society and its people did all kinds of farming. And when working in a bad position as a result ended up with aches and pains. So, the most popular way to sooth this would be some folk wisdom to employ to the massage like mixed herbs together with heat called “a herbal pressing ball” to remedy any symptoms without taking any dose of medicine. With this method, it is not only possible to recover from any pain or illness but also bring them good health. Furthermore, it is low cost and not too complicated to make.     

The meaning of “Herbal compression”

Herbal compression” means a method of pain and ache remedy by heat and herbal plants which can be single or blended. This method is to soften muscle and vessel resulting reduction of pain by the massage. It can be employed to the massage at the beginning or after as preferred.

Regularly, the herbal compression uses an action of heat and press to soothe any uncomfortable spot of the body for example any pain and ache caused by inflammation or clogging. There are 2 types of therapy which are soft compression and deep compression. The former is including hot bag, hot press, steaming etc. and the latter is a laser technique that is exclusive to use in places like a clinic or hospital because it is complex, expensive and highly effective.

The soft compression is divided to 2 types which are “Wet hot compression” and “Dried hot compression”. For Thai herbal compression, it is a wet hot method and works as a heat conduction to any pressed spot to be heated up and the skin will be softened.

The direction to do the herbal compression

Thai herbal compression is a way of blending variety of fresh and dried herbal plants which can be either a single or mixture of herbs. Then smash them together and wrap in a cloth to be “herbal pressing ball”, and then steam it before using together with a massage therapy.

The herbs to be used in pressing ball is either base and stimulant one mostly of base herbs are Bengal root, Kaffir lime peel and leaves, Turmeric, Lemongrass and the stimulant are Salt, Borneo camphor, Camphor. Despite mostly the herbs are plenty of properties but any therapist should be very concern regarding selection to use any herbal formula that supposed to depend on a symptom and is not allergic because some people can be allergy from any herb for example Bengal root, Zingiber ottensii Valeton, Red crinum lily and Cape lily leaves.

Preparation of herbal formula

Single type of herb

Single type of herb

This formula used only one type of herb which has benefits to cure any specific symptom such as Bengal root, Cape lily, Lemongrass, etc.

Blended herb formula

Blended herb formula

The blending of many herbs to enhance the benefit such as Bengal root, Turmeric, Kaffir lime peel or leaves, Lemongrass, Tamarind leaves, Cape lily leaves, Cryptolepis buchanani, Salt, Camphor and Borneo Camphor, etc. And below is some sample of benefit from important herbs used in herbal compression.

Bengal root or Plai in Thai:

It is an annual crop with scientific name Zingiber purpureum Rosc. ZINGIBERRACEAE. It has big rootstock with lime green color and signature fragrance. A mature root aged around 10 months up is brought to make prescription with its specific active substance is aroma oil with benefit for external use is to soothe bruise and inflammation, pain and ache relief, relax muscle and vessel, soothe black and blue, beriberi remedy, heal a wound, and internal use is carminative, hematic tonic, dysentery remedy, laxatives, heal a bowel.  


It is an annual plant with scientific name Curcuma longa Linn. ZINGIBERACEAE. It is a root plant with strong yellow or strong orange color and signature fragrance. Most roots to use in medicine are 7-9 months age. It has “curcumin” and aromatic oil as active substance. A blending of turmeric powder and rain water can soothe dermatitis or rash and from the study found that it has equal action to antibiotic when using as ointment in children. Smashed fresh turmeric root can be applied on any black and blue spot or pain or can mix as ingredient in pressing ball by press its root and steam until it is very warm and apply on prefer spot. And there is research found that the curcumin has action to stop the produce of “leukotriene and dioxygenases” that cause to inflammation therefore the curcumin has effect to reduce any inflammation.   

Kaffir lime or Leech Lime (peel or leaves):

It is perennial plant with scientific name Citrus hystrix DC. RUTACEAE. It has essential oil in both peel and leaves. The aroma oil has strong and heat scent and unpalatable taste. The benefit of Kaffir lime leaves is to heal any sore and bruise inside the body, cough remedy, heal hematemesis, carminative, and the benefit from its peel is uterine stimulant, carminative, soothe unsteady. And there is a study found that the aroma oil from kaffir lime peel and leaves has an action to anti-dysentery, anti-cancer, anti-bacteria and fungus, reduce blood pressure and kill trick and louse.


It is a tropical backyard garden plant in Thailand with scientific name Cymbopogon citratus Stapf. GRAMINAE. Thais likes to use it as ingredient for cooking. Its rootstock and leaf sheath provide essential oil called “Lemongrase oil” and about 0.2-0.4% of whole stalk and leaves contain an essential oil with a specific substance called “citral” and others are eugenol, geraniol, menthol, camphor, and cetronelol. Lemongrass taste unpalatable and strong fragrant with a benefit in carminative, promote good appetite, bloat up remedy, cold and cough remedy, stomachache relief, diarrhea remedy, soothe joint pain and any black and blue, irregular menstruation, pain relief, urination, nosebleed remedy, clear block nose. Its trunk is used to heal tinea, and it’s essential oil can be used for pain and ache relief.     


It is perennial plant with scientifc name Tamarindus indica Linn. LEGUMINOSAE. With a sour taste from its leaves provide benefit in blood purifying, sty, reduce and wipe out phlegm, soothe internal heat, cough and cold remedy, laxation, and external compression with it can relax a vessel and soothe itchy rash, cleanse skin. And there is some study found that there is some active substance in tamarind leaves is anti-virus and bacteria.    

Giant Lily:

It’s scientific name is Crinum amabile Donn AMARYLLIDACEAE. According to traditional Thai medicine, holding giant lily leaves over the fire to make it soften and compress on any bruised spot, it will be healed or take as medicine to heal internal bruise. A substance from giant lily leaves activate in anti-bacteria and prevent tumor growth. There is an active chemical of alkaloid family called lycorine which effect in anti-virus, rubeola, and polio, anyhow it is necessary to study for more since there is still high in toxin.  

Cryptolepis buchanani:

It is hard vine plant with scientific name Cryptolepis buchanani Roem. & Schult PERIPLOCACEAE. It has white resin and when boiled as drink can nourish and strengthen vessels, soothe pain and ache vessel, relax muscle and vessel. Its leaves work in pain and ache relief and relax vessel.


Science name is Sodium chloride or NaCI which mostly sourced from the sea. The pure salt is white, salty and soluble well. The salt produced from sea called sea salt with its benefit in heat absorb promoting well penetration of medicine into skin and active in germ killing as well.

Camphor Tree:

It is medium perennial plant with scientifc name Cinnamomum camphora Nees ex Eberm. LAURACEAE. In medicine will use its root and wood to mince and refine to get a pure white round flake. This flake is good scent and will be vaporize if leave in in open air. It is popular to use as ingredient in Thai medicine to make good fragrant and with benefit in sooth pain in vessel, soothe pain and bruise in muscle, joint and nerve, soothe dry skin. There is some study shown that it activates in anti-inflammatory, mild anesthetic for external use only.

Borneol camphor:

It made from blending camphor with other ingredients until get an essential substance in white flat bit and tastes cooling fresh. It is used to make good scent, soothe blister, fresh and chronic wounds, venereal decease, wound from tumor, rash, carminative, stomachache relief, and heart nourishing. 

Direction to employ the herbal compression to the massage

herbal compression to the massage
  • Arrange a pose for patient either in sit or lie down position.
  • Test the heat of a steamed pressing ball by touch at forearm or back of the hand before use.
  • Compress on preferred area along the body with start from feet or can do at specific spot i.e. shoulder, leg, back.
  • Do quickly while the ball is still hot and can rest the ball on the skin longer once it cools down with pressing and rubbing at any pain area.
  • Once the pressing ball is cold, replace with another one that already steamed and use this one at the upper area or head.
  • Before start the massage should wash and dry your hands. If your hands are cold, you can warm them up by rubbing both hands together.
  • Start with fingers and palm to massage at face from the middle of forehead and move to the side gently in vertical.
  • Use left hand to massage left side of the face and right hand to another. Then move down to cheek and then jaw.
  • Use both hand rub gently in small circle around temple area, jaw bone, earlobe and then move up to the scalp by start from the middle and rub in circle to hair line.

Things to concern for the herbal compression

  1. Do not use too hot ball in any sensitive, spur bone or wounded areas.
  2. Avoid to use too much hot ball in diabetic, palsy, children and seniority and be very careful when give the compression because they are not good respond resulting any burn may occur.   
  3. Any inflammation within 24 hours should not get the herbal compression massage since it will make it worse, so recommend to do cold compression instead.
  4. Do not take shower immediate after the herbal compression massage resulted from the body is not adjustable the temperature properly and it will wipe out the herbal active from skin.

Benefit of the herbal compression

The heat from compression will penetrate through skin into deep muscle and vessel. Any area of skin which compressed will be the highest temperature and if takes time about 15-30 minutes with the heat as a result to heat up the temperature of deep tissue at 1-2 cm under the skin. For when the herb gets heated it will activate to refine the medicine and essential oil that penetrable into the skin.

There are 3 types of result from the herbal compression are from heat, from herb, and from muscle rub with the detail by following;

Result from Heat:

types of result from the herbal compression are from heat

A temperature of skin increases to 40-45 c degree from the compression about 30 minutes and resulting;

Pain relief:

Nerve lines which is mostly found around akin area will be stimulated when the skin got heat. This will restrain the small neurite from pain caused less perception at the brain. And some of neurite travel to the reticular formation and pass through the hypothalamus and end at limbic in forebrain area to stimulate endorphin that active in pain and stress relief.    

Promote blood circulation:

While large nerve impulse is stimulated by heat to a spinal cord there is some nerve impulse return to a blood vein that stimulated resulting some chemical secretions that activate to relax blood vein muscle and expand the blood vein so that promoting the blood circulation. Those chemicals are histamine, prostaglandin, bradykinin for instances. 

Reduce inflammation:

When the temperature of tissue around the compressed area is higher as a result to make chemical reaction, and increase metabolism. This allow the tissue to bring in oxygen so any part with inflammation or hurt will be better to restore. Moreover, the body is more effective to drive waste from the body resulted better blood flow.  

Reduce jamming of joints:

Increased temperature of joints from the compression effect to impediment and movement speed of joint. When low temperature around the joint it is high in resistance and low in movement speed, on another hand high temperature allows to be low resistance and high in movement speed. The heat around the joint area promote shrinkage of collagen tissue to be more flexible as a result to be less pain and easier to move. In case that there is 40-45 c degree around the joint tissue from hot compression the collagenase will work more effective causing tissue and membrane are less shrink. And there is some study about hot compression in Osteoarthritis and the symptom of joint pain, joint stiffness to the limitation to do activity founded that a difficulty to do the activity from any symptom regarding joint pain and stiffness is reduced from hot compression remedy.  

Result from herbs

Relaxing from Result from herbs

There are 2 actions from herbs are skin compression and herbal aroma therapy

Result from skin compression:

Heat activate to the herb resulting its medicine and essential oil, besides there are fat layer within our skin so it will better allow to bring in both medical benefit from herb through the skin. The aroma oil is better penetrating through skin to blood circulation, lymph, perspiratory gland, collagen tissue and any other circulation in the body once the compression takes time about 20-60 minutes.

Therefore, any area that is compressed by herbal pressing ball it will get the herbal medicine and aroma oil as a result to soothe any pain, ache and inflammation for example an active chemical in Bengal root, turmeric, cape lily, etc. Specifically, in Bengal root and camphor, they contain an active chemical work as anesthetic and is penetrable to skin well with heat carrier. This will heal the pain by decrease small nerve conduction so the spiral cord and any nerve related to pain will be less active.

Result from herbal aroma therapy:

The aroma oil from any herbs such as turmeric, kaffir lime, camphor provides its action in relaxation, allow to get well sleep and relieve pain and ache.

  • Pain and ache relief: Molecule in aroma oil will enter from nose by inhale to blood circulation easily and fast. Further, this molecule is able to access to the lung and enter to blood stream while it is exchanging gas and then flow all along the body as a result to heal any pain and inflamed areas.  
  • Relaxation and sleep well: The aroma from herb effects to both body and mind because it is a scent that we favor and get familiar to. When the molecule of aromatic oil is evaporated and stuck at nose hair then there will be nerve impulse to olfactory receptor and send to limbic of forebrain. This will stimulate positive memory and affection, and also it will activate to hypothalamus which allow the body to flow a proper chemical to be relax and better sleep.   

Result from muscle rub

Result from muscle rub

Dead cell will be peeled off from the skin by rubbing massage resulting there is no any clog of sweat gland, hypodermic gland, and pore, moreover these will work better. Be noted that any red appeared on compressed area show that there is increasing of blood flow that reduce any residue chemicals in that area and relieve pain as well. Furthermore, there is nerve impulse from large nerve conduction which is stimulated and pass to limbic causing endorphin secretion to reduce respond to pain and increase a starting point of pain too. 


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