Thai Foot Massage and Reflexology - With Or Without A Stick?
Thai Reflexology (often called Thai Foot Massage), and western Reflexology, can be done with the help of a wooden massage stick, or it can be done without it, just using hands and other body parts.
What are the reasons for and against using such a stick? And what are the benefits or disadvantages or those sticks?
After living in Thailand, receiving hundreds of massages, and teaching Thai Massage and Reflexology courses to students since 2007 back in the UK, I have a pretty good understanding of this issue.
There are two points of view to consider:
1. The CLIENT perspective:
From personal experience I can say that some clients don’t like the foot massage sticks at all. They feel pokey and often quite painful to some.
Since they are rigid and hard, they lack the soft and sensitive quality of the human hand. There is no feeling transmitted through them.
On the other hand, let’s say you are in Thailand and walk into a foot massage shop. You have large and strong feet, and you end up with a female therapist who has small hands and not much power. In this case you might appreciate the added intensity of the stick.
2. The THERAPIST perspective:
For the therapist, the stick is a way to use more pressure with less effort. It makes it easy to apply deep pressure on one point without overusing the thumbs.
It also allows more pin-point precision work when using the sharper end of the stick.
However just from looking at it, it is hard to imagine how this could possibly be enjoyable.
Which method is mostly used in Thailand?
The majority of Thai foot massage therapists use the stick to some degree, for one thing because it is easier for them, and also to access certain points more precisely.
However if you ask them to not use the stick, they can generally also do the session with just their hands.
There are also foot massage shops where the sticks are never used and where therapists are trained to use their hands very effectively and without stressing them.
My policy has always been to only go to both foot massage shops, if possible, depending on my mood, the therapist, and the type of treatment I would like.
Foot massage: feeling versus therapeutic effect
What’s more important for the client:
To feel good, or to get the best therapeutic effect? Are those two options mutually exclusive, or could they possibly be combined into one?
Often the argument is that there is more therapeutic effect with the stick. In my experience as a teacher of Reflexology and Thai Foot Massage, this is not necessarily true.
The therapeutic effect does not come from just pressing harder and deeper. It is a misconception that therapeutic effect equals intensity of pressure, especially if this pressure is painful.
A good Thai Foot Massage or Reflexology session is not just a matter of where to press and how hard to press. It is a matter of providing a holistic, wonderfully relaxing, refreshing, invigorating, and healing experience.
Two approaches to Reflexology
There are two camps with two sets of styles here.
Some western reflexologist’s position is that the main purpose of their work is to stimulate a healing response by pressing on specific reflexology points, even if the experience is not very pleasant for the client during the session. Their main focus is on therapeutic results.
The other camp takes a different approach by focusing more on providing a relaxing and enjoyable experience along with the therapeutic work. This version is more of a blend between reflexology and foot massage. That’s how it is generally practiced in Thailand.
When to use the stick and when not
The question is this: Does the stick actually improve the quality and the results of a treatment, or is it just a tool to relieve the hands of the therapist?
From my personal experience as someone who has not only received hundreds of Thai Foot Massage sessions, but also taught students the techniques, my observation is that the stick does not improve the experience or the therapeutic results for the client.
There is no doubt that the stick makes it easier for the therapist, but often at the expense of an enjoyable experience for the client.
There are uses for the Thai Reflexology stick, however. For example, if a therapist has small hands and works on a client with large feet, then the stick can be a useful tool – as a supplement to the hands, not as a replacement.
This is different from automatically using the stick on everyone – necessary or not, beneficial or not. The stick should not be used automatically, but only when necessary, and it should not provide an inferior experience for the client.
There is no question that the human hand feels better than a wooden stick. It is much harder to make pressure feel good with the stick. Why?
The stick is hard, and the therapist cannot feel anything when pressing with it, whereas a trained human hand is very sensitive and can feel even the smallest knot or irregularity on a foot.
It is possible to develop good skills with the Thai foot massage stick and make it feel better for the client. However in my experience the vast majority of therapists who used the stick on my feet did not have such a refined skill level and just caused me discomfort and pain.
The stick is a good tool to have available for Thai Reflexology sessions – but more as a tool for certain situations and clients, and not as standard practice for every client in every session.
The problem and the solution
Here is the big issue. In the western world reflexology work relies heavily on the use of thumbs and can therefore be very hard on the therapist’s hands.
Thai Foot Massage and Reflexology without a high skill level can also be hard on the hands, and therefore the stick seems to be an easy way to fix this.
What if there was a way to combine all these elements in your work?
Such a system actually exists. It is the best of both worlds because it largely eliminates the need for a wooden stick, it provides excellent therapeutic results, and it provides a thoroughly enjoyable experience for the client.
The secret is to greatly improve the way how you use your hands.
Instead of working mostly with thumbs and fingers, you can do the following:
This system is taught in our Foot Massage And Reflexology training courses and our treatments.