Call it unintended consequences or call it a blow to an American tradition, but the Sacramento city
massage ordinance and Chinese practices are changing reflexology in that city. The
Sacramento Bee reports on three Chinese foot reflexology businesses which will soon be joined by two more.
The services provided are outside the American traditions launched in the 1930’s by physiotherapist
Eunice Ingham and adopted throughout the Western world. They are priced well below the
standard for the profession.
The Chinese service is described as: “A plastic-lined wooden bucket, filled with steaming hot
Tibetan-powder-steeped water, is brought to soak weary feet. The therapist begins by massaging
the scalp, ears and face, taking special care to include pressure points near the hairline.… “The
therapist moves on to the arms, legs and finally the feet, using knuckles, fists and even a soft slapping
to get the blood flowing. The customer, who remains fully clothed, then flips over and
receives a full back massage.” … “When reflexology first came to the Los Angeles area, prices
were more than three times what they are now. Steep competition led to price cutting and the cost
settled on the standard $20. Memberships, where 10 or 20 massages are prepaid, cost less per
hour. Therapists work as independent contractors and make an average of $10 per massage plus
tips.” (Sacramento Bee)
Within the standards of American reflexology, the service provided is pressure technique applied
to the hands and feet. Use of knuckles is taboo due to concerns about undo pain caused to the client.
Prices range from $50 an hour and up.
Consumers in Sacramento have complained about the pain involved in the Chinese reflexology
services. Such concerns were raised recently when an American television series required the
show’s contestants to undergo a reflexology session in Beijing. “Pain and suffering” is the image
that emerged of a reflexology session in Beijing following the April 28, 2009 broadcast of reality
show Amazing Race 14.
Broadcast in prime time on a major American television network, the
show pits two-member teams against each other in a travel contest. Each episode includes a “Road
Block” and for this episode the Road Block was reflexology. Particularly troubling to reflexologists
viewing the scene was not only the pain endured by the show’s contestants but also video of
the reflexologists whose smiling and pleased countenances made it appear they enjoyed the discomfort
of their clients. On-line discussion by reflexologists reflected concern that their profession
would be associated with similar painful work. (To see a re-play of the episode, go to
Of further concern to reflexologists and reflecting on their practice is the assertion in the article
that “No studies prove these health claims” (Reflexology works to “relieve stress, improve circulation
and bring balance to the body”). Literally hundreds of studies exist and support such statements.
Ironically many have been conducted in China. Statements to the contrary undermine
reflexologists’ efforts to provide accurate information to consumers about their work.