Monday, August 3, 2009

Chinese-Style Reflexology Business in the Sacramento

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.

Kevin Kunz

1 comment:

Bill Anderson said...

Hi Kevin, I know this is an old post but it is the first time I have been here. I did an internet search about Chinese reflexology after having recieved one the other day and it led me here. It was so unlike the American style that I had recieved before. I recieved the full head, shoulders back, etc. as well as a foot and leg massage. For $40. Quite a bargain. But I had only thought I was going to recieve a foot reflexology session. My feet were slathered with lotion and most of the strokes where long, smooth massage-like, not the dry, acupressure style of American reflexology. The therapist did not speak English or ask me to mention if there was pain nor did she look to see the pain in my face when she hit some very sensitive spots.

Anyhow, I would like to know your thoughts about this current "invasion" of Chinese style reflexology and what it means to our American style.

Thanks, Bill