These herbal balls may seem decorative and spa-trendy, but they also have function -- and a long history of use that spans thousands of years. The purpose of the compress is to deliver antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties to traumatized soft tissue, as well as the stimulating benefits of acupressure. Originally, this ancient tool was used to speed healing and reduce pain in soldiers wounded during Thailand's Ayutthaya period, which began in the 14th century and continued through the 18th century. The Luk Pra Kob, or the "pressing herbal sphere," as it is known in Thailand, is used to act on energy channels along the body called Sen Sib lines. In the west, Thai herbal compress balls have become popular in spas and with massage therapists in recent years.
The compress balls are applied as a hot treatment. First, a square (likely multiples) of muslin fabric is laid out and a quantity of healing herbs are placed in the center. Then the four corners are drawn to the center and the excess fabric at the top is twisted and tied off. Just prior to use, the ball is soaked for several minutes in water and then exposed to hot steam for 15 to 20 minutes. During application, the ball is applied to the skin using consistent pressure and rolling movements to encourage muscle relaxation and dragging motions to promote lymphatic drainage and the release of metabolic wastes from muscles. In addition to treating muscle strain and soft tissue injuries, Thai herbal balls are used to address pain and inflammation associated with fibromyalgia and arthritis.
Naturally, the herbs used in Thai compress balls are typically those that are native to the region. The traditional herbal "recipe," which has remain unchanged since the 14th century, includes camphor (antimicrobial), lemongrass (astringent to reduce inflammation), turmeric (antibacterial and softens skin) prai (an Thai herb that reduces muscle and joint pain) kaffir lime (increases blood circulation) and tamarind (promotes skin cell renewal).