So here I am, again latching onto the brilliance of others and writing my own counterpoint to the nonsense that is currently being run in the NZ Herald under the “Alternative Therapies” summer fluff.

Previously Alison kicked us off by looking at the use of medicinal leeches, as did  Siouxsie, and Michael took on Ayurvedic Medicine.

The latest round concerns something called Thai Yoga Massage or Nuad (Nuat) Boran. Essentially the practice consists of the massaged party adopting a series of yoga positions while the massager applies pressure to the body’s “Sen” lines. Those familiar with acupuncture’s “Meridians” can replace Miridian with Sen and get the general idea.

From an article describing the practice:

“The theoretical basis for traditional Thai healing is rooted in the belief  that all forms of life are sustained by a vital force (lom) that is carried  along invisible energy pathways (sen) running through our bodies.  This energy force is extracted from air, water, and food, and it is  believed that disease and dysfunction come about when energy  becomes blocked along these pathways. Accordingly, Thai massage’s  intent is to free this trapped energy, stimulate the natural flow of life  force, and maintain a general balance of wellness.”

Thus Nuad Boran is a system of energy medicine based on pre-scientific notions of “Vital Force” or “Life Energy”, blockages in which are the cause of disease (though exactly what disease seems to be harder to pin down). It is also claimed to be based partly on Ayurvedic medicine.

So what exactly does this “Alternative Therapy” treat? From the same article quoted above:

“The result of a full-body Thai session is often an exciting and powerful mind/body experience, bringing both the recipient and the practitioner to greater states of physical and mental well-being.”

But that’s kind of vague, what else?

Like many alternative treatments and especially the ones covered by the Herald this week the actual claims for Thai Massage seem to centre around improved blood flow. At least that’s the impression I got from looking at the listed clinical research on this page.

But apparently in the medical literature Thai Massage is mainly focused on pain relief, though there is this one hopeful study trying to use it as a treatment for Autism (the current trendy target for alternative therapies where nothing is too insane to try including chemical castration). Though a brief look at the abstract implies to me that they took one implausible treatment added a second implausible treatment and decided that Implausible2 = Success.

Pain is a good candidate for effective use of Thai Massage; the end point is subjective and massage involves close contact which humans generally find inherently soothing. Hopefully any successes in the pain arena will not be parlayed into evidence that the treatment “works” for any other condition.

The main issue I have with all the literature I’ve been able to dig up so far is that only Thai Massage was included in the studys. The specific reason for using Thai Massage (at least traditionally) is the claims regarding redirecting and unblocking life energy. Remove that unscientific aspect and why wouldn’t any massage work just as well?

I’m perfectly sanguine about the possibility that Thai Massage may be beneficial for perception of pain and reliving stress for the reasons given above. Should we be saddled with the extra hypothesis about life force, with the implication that there is something mystical and magical going on; giving the added justification that the therapy could be of use beyond pain and stress (and whatever else massage is good for)?

I don’t think so.

As Michael pointed out in his post, even the Herald reporters aren’t approaching these “therapies” as medical treatments but more as a relaxing massage/spa  session (except for the leeches, but perhaps there are those out there who would consider this relaxing).

Frankly, after the above it should be “’nuff said”. But how does the Herald approach this wellspring of traditional medical wisdom?

Well, possibly this article is the most honest so far, explicitly calling the technique a “relaxation therapy”. The life force concept is only briefly and obliquely referenced and the main emphasis is that this is simply a massage.

Even so, there are vague hints that the procedure is beneficial to your health is way that go beyond simple massage.

Passages like:

“…the yoga-like stretches help to stimulate and move air through the body.

Every vital part of the human body, from the heart to the lungs, needs good air flow to function well, and Thai massage is aimed at stimulating these air vessels in the body,” said Nucharee Weerawan”

Do subtly imply that the massage will not only relax you but will help your body to “function well” whatever that might mean in this context. Which in turn may lead people to be more open to the idea that the massage could be used to treat more serious ailments. Or maybe the population will actually think things through for themselves and see through more extravagant claims.

I’m hoping for the later.

Though reading further into the description of the massage given, it doesn’t sound especially pleasant. Despite the attempt at a positive spin in the last line.

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