Sunday, November 15, 2015

Thai Traditional Medicine

It has been an eventful trip so far! We were happy to have a free day today and be able to take a rest from long van rides and hot days in the community and the clinic. We went to the mall, which was slightly overwhelming with four levels and tons of stores. We heard about a grocery store in the mall so we hunted it down and stocked up on snacks (mainly nuts, peanut butter, chocolate, and Nutella) which we are not getting in our Asian buffets! (sigh)

In the clinic there is a Thai massage therapist that also specializes in herbs and homeopathic medicine. Her name is Sompont and she is available for all of the patients if they needed. I interviewed her with my wonderful translator, Dr. Patama, last week and learned a wealth of information regarding traditional Thai medicine.

The massage therapist shared with me 5 concepts that are key in Thai homeopathic medicine. The first is the use of herbs. Members of the community will donate herbs to be used for different therapeutic modalities. She also has a garden in the back of the clinic with some of the most commonly used herbs: ginger, lemongrass, camphor, finger root, and turmeric.

The second concept of healing that is important to Thai culture is food. Depending on your birth month there are certain foods that are considered to be of most benefit. For example, since I was born in December, my foods are lime, strawberry, oranges and fish. Guess I’ll be eating more of those!

Another important concept to Thai people is the use of massage. Unlike other types of massage, Thai massage uses fingers, elbows, knees, feet, and any body part that can be utilized to release tension. Thai massage is unique in that they use a lot of stretching techniques that are incorporated throughout the massage.

The fourth idea is the use of warm compresses. I was able to see this done because there was a patient who had fallen a couple weeks previously and she was in the clinic for her physical therapy, which included the use of a warm compress being pressed into all parts of her legs and arms and back by the massage therapist. The compress contains ginger, tamarind and patchouli and the function of the compress is to relax the muscles of the body. I was getting quite relaxed myself simply being in the room and inhaling the delicious smell of ginger!

Lastly, the use of steaming rooms is common. She had such a room in her clinic area, and it consisted of a wooded area about the size of a closet with a door that trapped the heat. There was a seat inside and beneath that she placed a boiling pot of water with the following herbs: ginger, banana, lemongrass, zingiber and balsamifera. This room is utilized by women who have just given birth. They come in 3-5 times and sit in the room for 30 minutes. Through the inhalation of the herbs in the boiling water the women undergo vasodilation and increase their blood flow. It is also believed to increase the flow of breast milk. This is a Thai tradition that goes back 1000 years!

It was very informative to be able to learn more about Thai traditional medicine and the aspects of care that are fundamental to this culture. It seems that homeopathic solutions have more of a place here in Thailand and the Asian culture in general than in western medicine. I will be excited to take this knowledge to my practice in the United States!

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