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Thai and Swedish Massage Research Project

by Susan Lorrimer(more info)

listed in thai yoga massage and bodywork, originally published in issue 197 - August 2012

Research Project

Susan Lorrimer has been practising Thai massage for 9 years and has found it to be beneficial for clients and also satisfying to perform; each treatment is different according to the client’s needs and energy. As there are over 150 postures in Thai massage, the therapist will choose the ones most suited to the client’s needs, taking into account flexibility and contra-indications.

Susan Lorrimer - Thai Massage
Susan Lorrimer - Thai Massage

Sue has achieved good results with Thai massage and feels that it is one of the most holistic types of massage available; however there is very little information on Thai massage and even less research: “Research in the massage therapy field is still in its infancy partly due to a lack of research infrastructure and a research tradition. The result is that most registered massage therapists are not accustomed to reading, analysing, conducting or writing case studies or applying research in their own practice” (Hall, 2009).

Sue decided to see if it was possible to do a research study on Thai massage and so approached Teesside University’s research department to see if it there was any help available to start a research project and also for funding for a pilot study into the effects of Thai massage on energy levels. Fortunately there was both – this story was outlined below in the Teesside University press release.

Sue has the following advice for others interested in setting up a research project: ”It is hard work, you need professionals on board and the people involved in the groundwork need to be flexible and ready to juggle and change appointments when needed. You’ve got to be committed and prepared to encourage people to attend but it is really worthwhile. I feel that I was lucky and found the process easier as I was based at the university, but I would encourage other practitioners to find out how they could go about getting a project off the ground as we need more research in our field.”

Sue is currently writing a case study on Thai massage involving a client’s response to six treatments: three treatments given at weekly intervals and the following three treatments given at monthly intervals.

Teesside University Press Release - Research into Thai Massage

When therapist Susan Lorrimer asked for volunteers for a unique research project comparing Thai and Swedish massage, she got over 200 responses from willing participants. Those had to be whittled down to 20 and the project at Teesside University has just been completed. The aim of the study is to explore, and compare, people's responses to both Thai and Swedish massage, with a particular interest in people's energy levels.

Thai Massage Energy Lines
Thai Massage Energy Lines

The project received £5,000 funding through the University’s Graduate Research School and it is hoped the results will help inform clinical practice and support future funding applications for larger scale research projects in this area.

Susan, whose business Posture Tonic provides health promotion training and workshops and is an Incubated Business at Teesside University, said: “There are so many complementary therapies out there and people do not know what works and what doesn’t. Thai massage is becoming a more well-known therapy but there is little evidence relating to how effective it actually is.

“Through an intensive programme of massage, I am examining and recording if and how Thai and Swedish massage affect people’s energy levels.”

The 20 volunteers are receiving three weeks of Thai massage and three weeks of Swedish massage from Susan. Throughout the process, the volunteers’ experiences and perceptions are being recorded through questionnaires, recorded interviews and diaries. Also involved in the research project along with Susan are Teesside University academics Professor Anna van Wersch and Dr Alasdair MacSween, who collaborated on the research proposal and grant application. MSc Health Psychology graduate Marie Holmes is working as a Research Assistant. Her dissertation was on a branch of complementary medicine and she is carrying out the interviews and data analysis.

Vital University Support

“The support from Teesside University has been vital and really helped from an academic perspective,” said Susan.

“I have been a therapist for 10 years and became interested in research because it was accessible through the University. It’s a fantastic experience as I feel I am really contributing to the database of therapy research.”

Dr MacSween added: “I think this is a really successful research project and collaboration between ourselves as academics and Susan as a practising therapist. People are using these therapies largely on anecdotal evidence and we don’t really know what works and what doesn’t.

“We hope to continue and develop this collaboration in the future. If our results indicate it is merited, we plan to seek funding from an external source for a larger scale project which could help to influence clinical practice, service provision and policy decisions.”

Professor van Wersch said: “I think there is an incredible need for this kind of research. You can see by the number of people who volunteered that the demand for complementary therapy is extremely high and it is important that we find out more, in a structured and coordinated way, about how it works.”

The results are currently being interpreted and analysed - we hope they will be ready for publication towards the end of the year. If the results are positive it will be a springboard for applying for external funding for a larger follow-on trial.


Hall H. Vision of specialisation for Registered Massage Therapists. 2009.


  1. mercedes said..

    Hello Susan,

    I very interested in your published study of thai yoga massage and swedish massage . At the moment I am studying massage therapy and I have studied some thai yoga massage here in Canada. Please keep me on your list when you announce the release of you study I would like to read your research study.
    Mercedes Cueto
    Sudbury Ontario

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About Susan Lorrimer

Susan Lorrimer, Founder and Operator of Sumay, is a qualified holistic therapist and Thai massage practitioner with over 10 years’ experience in her field and is one of the region’s leading complementary therapists. Susan studied holistic therapies in the North East and at the “Old Medicine Hospital” in Chiang Mai, Thailand, considered to be one of the world’s leading schools for healing massage, massage therapy, massage theory and therapeutic relationships.

Sue created Sumay to bring the benefits of a holistic therapy to a wider audience, helping organizations in both the private, public and third sectors to deliver workforce well-being and health interventions. Sue provides various corporate in-house workshops and is also available for providing holistic therapy training for private or public health care providers. Susan may be contacted via Mob: 07854 092303; 

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