Thai Foot Massage and Thai Reflexology are often used interchangeably in Thailand. But they are actually two different styles, although there can be some overlap.
First, let’s look at the bigger picture and go on a virtual excursion to Thailand.
Foot Massage In Thailand
Foot massage is very popular in Thailand. It is available everywhere, and often in public spaces in plain view of everyone.
This might be in the mall, in open-air markets, on the sidewalk, in massage shops, at festivals and other events, in parks, or on the beach, etc.
In Thailand, people don’t look at foot massage as a strictly clinical, therapeutic experience. It is often done just for the enjoyment of it.
It’s easy – you don’t have to book an appointment. You can just show up, and in most cases there will be a therapist ready to take care of you.
There is no paperwork, no forms to fill out. Privacy is not part of the experience. All massage clients sit on chairs next to each other, and chatting with your neighbor or with the therapist is perfectly normal and acceptable.
The atmosphere is very relaxed and easy-going. It’s as much a therapeutic event as a social event.
It’s not a painful affair – clients often fall asleep during the session.
Although therapists learn about reflexology points, generally there is not so much attention on which reflexology point corresponds with which organ exactly, as long as the foot massage feels good and the client walks away with feet that feel like new.
It is more about the overall experience than about clinical details. Foot Massage in Thailand is often not a planned event, but something you do out of the spur of the moment, just because you feel like it.
The price is typically so low that the cost of a session is not much of a consideration – between $5 and $10 per hour.
It’s part of having a good time in Thailand, it’s part of the culture and the scene, and for many it is one of the highlights of a Thailand visit.
What exactly is the difference between Thai Foot Massage and Thai Reflexology?
Thai Foot Massage is often used as an umbrella name for any kind of work on the feet. However technically there are major differences:
Thai Reflexology is something quite different. It is more similar to the reflexology that we know from the western world, but different enough to be a unique and separate modality:
Since Thai Reflexology is done with oil, it uses fluid stroking movements, whereas Thai Foot Massage, which is done without oil, uses more static pressure points and foot/ankle manipulations.
However Thai Reflexology borrows some Thai Foot Massage stretches which are typically used at the end of a session, but only briefly.
Are Thai reflexology and western reflexology different?
Western reflexology is more focused on therapeutic applications. The therapists typically use their thumbs a lot which can be hard on the hands, especially when working on clients with large and stiff feet.
Thai reflexology has more therapist-friendly techniques and makes much less use of the thumbs. Instead therapists use more knuckle techniques which do not stress the thumbs.
Western reflexology is primarily focused on the feet and can sometimes be quite painful. It is often not so much designed as an enjoyable experience, but more as a corrective therapy.
Thai reflexology is more inclusive. Sessions are mostly foot work, but often also include work on the calves and knees, and sometimes even on the shoulders, arms, and upper back.
It is more of a combination of reflexology and pleasant foot massage. The goal is to help the client with foot problems, but not at the expense of an enjoyable experience.
Thai Reflexology sessions are a unique combination of therapy, pleasure, relaxation, social interaction, and watching the world go by.
How effective are Thai reflexology sessions?
As someone who has lived in Thailand for 20 years and received hundreds of foot massage sessions, I can say that this has always been one of the most enjoyable aspects of my life in this country.
If you know a good therapist, the foot work is amazingly effective. Many times, after a session I have felt like I was walking on clouds, and my hurting feet felt totally restored to well-being.
Many people, including myself, have made Thai foot massage and reflexology a regular part of their lives, and are looking forwards to it every time.
Is Thai Foot Massage the same everywhere in Thailand?
No, there are significant differences. For example, some therapists use wooden massage sticks extensively which is often not so enjoyable.
Personally I have always sought out therapists who work only with their hands which is definitely a superior experience.
Then there are therapists who are not skilled in the use their knuckles, and their work can feel more superficial and lack power.
The best and most skilled Thai reflexology therapists are real artists at using their knuckles expertly for a much better and more effective experience.
Good knuckle work is the secret for deep and therapeutic foot work without having to stress your thumbs, and without having to use hard wooden sticks.
Related reading: CLICK HERE to read about the pros and cons of using a stick with Thai Foot Massage.
Where can you learn Thai Foot Massage?
Typically Thai Foot massage is taught at Thai Massage schools as part of general Thai Massage. Thai Reflexology is taught as a separate system, however good teachers are not easy to find.
However what is almost always lacking in Thai Foot Massage courses is specific training for foot conditions like hammer toes, plantar faciitis, bunyons, general foot health, and education about lifestyle habits that cause foot problems in the first place.
How can you learn Thai Foot Massage and Thai Reflexology at its highest level?
Thai Healing Massage Academy has created the most advanced, in-depth and comprehensive Thai Foot Massage and reflexology training that is available online.
It includes extensive training in all three areas:
Although this training material is 100 percent online, it is supported by the instructor and a large student community in a private forum and a facebook group.
The Thai Foot Massage training can be used to improve general massage skills, or to add to your Thai Massage skills, or to create a new stand-alone modality for your practice.
The author, Shama Kern, is the founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for two decades, and he is the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.