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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

Foot Massage

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Greetings Sacred Clients! I am Kirby Clark Ellis, Master Massage Therapist, Board Certified In Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.

To close out the year, I’m doing a series of videos on Informed Consent Body Regions.

A quick word about draping: Notice how I make an “M shape” drape by tucking the drape sheet between the client’s feet to ensure modesty. Draping is used to maintain client privacy and security while also providing warmth.

You might also notice that this client has an abrasion or cut on their right heel. I am going to be taking extra care to avoid working directly on that abrasion.

When I work with the feet in the Prone position (face down like this), I tend to use basic reflexology.

Reflexology also known as “Zone Therapy” is a method of stimulating reflexes in the feet to promote healing throughout the whole body.

In Reflexology, the feet are considered to be reflections or mini-maps of the human body.

Specific reflex areas relate to internal organs, glands, or other structures in the body.

By applying pressure with thumbs, fingertips, knuckles, the edge of the hands, the heel or back of the hands, or fists, to these reflex points, reflexologists encourage therapeutic change to that corresponding part of the body.

I am not a Reflexologist. I do not have certifications or licenses specifically in Reflexology. And I do not market myself as such.

But as a massage therapist, Reflexology is within my scope of practice, and it is something I like to provide for anyone who will let me touch their feet.

There are three specific reflex points I like to include as a part of my general foot work; the shoulders, the neck, and the low back.

The most recognized name in Reflexology is perhaps Eunice Ingram. Eunice was a physician’s staff therapist who trained in zone therapy and used it with her clients.

In her approach, feet were the best to access these reflex points, due to their sensitivity. Eunice was the first to map the entire body onto the feet. For this reason, she is largely credited as developing Reflexology.

In Reflexology, feet are thought to be a perfect microcosm of the human body. The instep or arch of the feet matches the natural curve of the human spine!

To speak on muscular and skeletal anatomy; the feet are an extraordinarily complex structure of joints, muscles, bones, and nerves.

Feet consist of 19 muscles which are intrinsic to the feet. With 10 others that start elsewhere in the body but cross the ankle and have action on the feet.

The feet also contain 26 bones, while the ankle and foot are made up of 34 joints!

The feet have extensive distribution of nerves, in fact, the feet have the most amount of nerves than any other part of the body in relationship to their size!

Due to their position in the body, the feet send considerable amounts of postural information through mechanoreceptors using the Central Nervous System.

Sensory and motor regions of the brain devote a large portion of the brain to the feet.

Foot massage can provide a high degree of manipulation for the Central Nervous System- encouraging relaxation and parasympathetic response.

The feet are also the most distal part of the body, so blood can tend to stagnate which can lead to swelling.

Keep in mind that feet bear all of the body weight. Any dysfunction in the feet can result in compensation patterns throughout the rest of the body like a chain of dysfunction.

The feet also encounter hard surfaces (concrete is a foot killer!), uneven and jarring surfaces (rocks, or legos, or even glass), inappropriate footwear, and poor posture.

The feet are often our first interaction with the world around us, they serve our bodies in an often thankless, abused, and neglected relationship.

Let’s talk about informed consent.

The feet are considered a body region that requires informed consent because some clients either have an aversion or phobia of feet (including their own feet!) The feet might also be hypersensitive or have a propensity for ticklishness.

For this reason, lighter work with liberal amounts of massage lubrication can be abrasive and ticklish for sensitive clients. Deeper, broader, slower, and drier pressure is a better option to approach with sensitive clientele.

The best approach to any foot work is applying pressure and joint movement.

Pressure stimulates circulation, lymph, nerves, and reflexes. Joint movement stimulates larger nerve fibers and joint mechanoreceptors.

Combining Pressure with Joint Movement results in a shift in the proprioceptive and postural reflexes- flooding the Central Nervous System with data and leads to the parasympathetic dominance (or relaxation).

In my experience when working with the feet, clients will generally have a shyness or embarrassment about their own feet.

But I believe in body positivity and shame free massage! That means every part of the body, including the feet.

You never have to apologize for the shape your body is in when it gets on my massage table. And you don’t owe “the perfect feet” (whatever that means) to anyone besides yourself- least of all your massage therapist.

A lot of clients (and some therapists) worry about cleanliness of the feet. While cleanliness and hygiene are important (And highly appreciated by your therapists), don’t get bogged down with this idea that feet are inherently dirtier than other parts of the body.

For example, there are a lot of dirtier things you do with your hands that you don’t do with your feet.

You don’t push elevator buttons, you don’t use door handles, you don’t handle money, you don’t use the bathroom with your feet.

The hands encounter a lot more common surface areas and cross contamination risks than the feet do. The feet get a bad rap.

The feet are often neglected.

They provide stability, support, and postural information (known as proprioception – or where the body is in relation to space) for everything else we do with our bodies.

Feet are our foundation! Our feet do a lot of hard work for us, day in and day out. Be nurturing and loving to your feet.

Peace and Haling,

Kirby Clark Ellis, MMT, BCTMB

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