Foot Reflexology vs. Podiatry: I went for a foot massage

I decided to go for a foot massage at Bien Etre Blind Massage (Everton Park/Outram Park) last Friday. It was affordable enough at only $28 for a 40 minute herbal foot soaking plus foot reflexology.

For those who are looking for Swedish massage or deep tissue massage, Shuang Spa, literally just down the stairs from my office, offers them.

Yes, I went for a foot massage. Shocking, I know. Today we want to discuss why I, as a chiropractor who openly writes against manual therapy, would go for a massage. Does that mean I am a hypocrite?

(To clarify, I didn’t meet any staff who were visually impaired.)

What is foot reflexology?

First, reflexology refers to the study how a region of a body is related to a different part of the body.

Second, foot reflexology refers to how different parts of the foot relates to different internal organs and body parts. This is mapped out in a foot reflexology chart.

Third, it is believed that massaging the different pressure points of the foot can have an effect on different – but specific – parts of the body. Some say it improves blood circulation.

For example, the big toe is linked to pituitary function. Dysfunction of the pituitary gland (located in the brain) can lead to various endocrine or hormone-related conditions including diabetes.

To put that altogether, foot reflexologists assert that by applying pressure to the reflex points of your foot, you can be able to enjoy health benefits from improvements in lower back pain to asthma. To some extend, it sounds like tui na.

Podiatry vs. foot reflexology

When we talk about foot reflexology, we don’t really think of podiatry. For us, they are two separate, distinct professions even though both professions work with the foot.

If we look into the history of foot reflexology, the earliest records were actually found in Egypt. While studies have claimed foot reflexology started in China 5000 years ago, there are no clear documentation to support that claim.

Podiatry started much later compared to foot reflexology. It started around the same time as chiropractic, osteopathy, homeopathy, etc and was regulated as a profession in United States in 1895.

Not surprisingly podiatry, as a profession, rejects foot reflexology as an unproven, unscientific practice.

To put that into perspective, podiatry is a legitimised foot health care profession that bases itself on scientific research. It follows an evidence-based approach of diagnosis, treatment, and management of various foot conditions.

Foot reflexology, on the other hand, is based on principles or systems that are metaphysical in nature and are not backed by the latest scientific research.

Today, podiatrists work with a wide range of foot problems. From wound care of the skin and nail (e.g. diabetic foot ulcers, ingrown toenail) to functional control of the foot and lower limb.

If you are a patient who require sports podiatry for your lower limb condition, podiatrists can also perform gait analysis to help with your foot care or sports performance.

It is no surprise that we do not perceive the professions to be the same.

Did I go for a foot massage or foot reflexology?

I don’t think at any point in time did it cross my mind that I went for “foot reflexology” in the true sense of it.

I had a relaxing foot bath followed by massage.

I had no expectations when it comes to foot reflexology to fixing any health problems of mine. To be clear, I didn’t have any feet ache or pain when I decided to go.

Furthermore, the therapist didn’t even ask if there were any health problems I was looking to address. In fact, we exchanged less than ten words through my entire time there.

From my perspective, I had a foot reflexology massage.

Is it okay for some one who doesn’t believe in massage to go for one?

To be clear, my position is that manual therapy (including chiropractic adjustments and massage) does not deliver long time pain relief.

When it comes to your aches, pain, and injury, massage as a treatment is not going to be your long term pain solution. Short-term symptom relief? Yes.

Remember when I said earlier, I didn’t for the foot reflexology session to have any health problems addressed. In fact, my feet were perfectly fine and they were not even sore.

It was painful when they probed into it though. Probably more painful than I’d like.

This is the difference. I did not utilise foot massage as a pain solution or as an injury management treatment. I was at the foot massage for the sole purpose of the shiok factor.

Would I go to a podiatrist for a foot rub? No.

Will I go to a foot reflexologist for plantar fasciitis or an ankle sprain? No.

This is why intent and goals are important.

If you are looking to relieve stress, a full body massage or an oil massage with essential oils may be help for you.

Massage vs. chiropractic care

If you have chronic lower back pain or neck pain, would you choose to see a chiropractor or a massage therapist?

You may book an appointment to see a chiropractor. If that is what you did, the chiropractor’s job is to diagnose your symptoms, recommend and provide the treatments you require to achieve recovery.

For me, this is means exercise, education, and advice.

Manual “hands on” work such as trigger point therapy?

Sure, we can offer them. Will that make a difference to your recovery? Probably not.

For us, it’s about the intent and the expectation. If you are intending to get better and you expect to feel better, you shouldn’t be seeking manual therapy.

Too often we get individuals who want chiropractic treatment in the form of chiropractic adjustments to help permanently resolve their lower back pain.

This is an unfair expectation. We already know from research that this is not likely to happen. When we advised these individuals accordingly, they choose to seek care elsewhere.

In short, they choose to seek treatment from a clinician who resonates with their personal biases, attitudes, belief systems. Even though they are likely to not get better.

From our perspective, that’s just silly and a waste of money.

On the other hand, if you choose to see chiropractic adjustment as a shiok factor – as I would when I go for a foot massage – that is reasonable.

If you are going to choose chiropractic care or massage therapy is not aligned with the latest clinical guidelines recommendation, you should reasonably expect yourself to not get better. This makes sense to me.

Six takeaway lessons in seeking the right treatment

  1. Always know what you are after – are you looking to feel shiok or looking to achieve full recovery?
  2. If you are looking to feel shiok, do whatever that makes you feel the best
  3. If you are looking to recovery from an injury or a long-term pain solution, do your research to see what the latest clinical guidelines say about that specific condition
  4. Accept that recovery is almost never shiok and smooth-sailing
  5. Would you go to a podiatrist for a foot rub for the shiok-ness? If not, why would you go to a chiropractor to have back crack just cos it feels good?
  6. If you think recovery is about going to a chiropractor and get your back cracked – despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting to the contrary – examine your biases and attitudes towards recovery. Challenge them and go back to point 4.


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