Thai Reflexology (often called Thai Foot Massage) 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 of those sticks?
After living in Thailand for 20 years, receiving hundreds of foot massages, and teaching Thai Massage courses to thousands of students since 2001 I have a pretty good understanding of this issue.
There are two points of view to consider:
1. The foot massage CLIENT perspective:
From personal experience, I can say that I don’t like the foot massage sticks at all. They feel pokey and often quite painful to me.
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 foot massage 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 pinpoint 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. Why? 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. That’s where therapists are trained to use their hands very effectively and without stressing them.
My preference has always been to only go to non-stick foot massage shops, if possible. If I cannot find one, at least I ask the therapist to not use the stick on my feet.
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 a more therapeutic effect with the stick. In my experience as a long-time teacher of Thai Massage 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 Thai 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 approach is that the main purpose of their work is to stimulate a healing response by pressing on specific reflexology points. This is done even if the experience is not very pleasant for the client during the session. Their main focus is on therapeutic results.
- The other approach is to focus 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 for reflexology and when not
The question is this: Does the stick actually improve the quality and the results of a Thai Reflexology session, or is it just a tool to relieve the hands of the therapist?
I have personally received hundreds of Thai Foot Massage sessions, and I have also taught the techniques to many hundreds of students.
Based on my observations, my conclusion 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.
Valid uses for the Thai Reflexology stick
There are uses for the 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. However, this should be a supplement to the hands, not a replacement for them.
If you want to use a stick, then use the wider rounded end of it for stroking on the soles, and not for poking with the sharp end.
Make sure the sole of the foot is well oiled. The stick can be useful for the heel area which is harder to work on with your hands on big and tough feet.
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.
Human hand versus stick in Thai reflexology
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. In contrast, 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. It should be used more as a tool for certain situations and clients, and not as a standard routine for every session. Personally, I avoid using the stick in most cases since it just doesn’t feel as good.
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 Reflexology without a high skill level can also be hard on the hands. 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. Why? 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 Thai Healing Massage Academy’s Thai Foot Massage And Reflexology online training course.
This training includes three parts: Thai Foot Massage, Thai Reflexology, and Foot Therapy for specific conditions.
This course is much more than a demonstration of some techniques. It is a complete system for becoming a highly qualified, outstanding and unique Thai Foot Massage and Reflexology specialist. Check out the details by clicking on the link below.
The author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for over two decades. He is the founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.
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5 thoughts on “Which Is Better – Thai Reflexology With Or Without Wooden Stick”
Hi Shama , I am starting a massage business now in Finland including Thai massage and part of that is foot massage , this is really as you said almost forgotten therapy anyway in Finland . easy to do , big advantage for client , no need to take clothes off and can be done basically everywhere . Very important point what you said about stick . I suppose you have to consider your client , some of them want hard pressing by stick but most of them as you mentioned have image of relaxing treatment and if stick cause much pain maybe they do not get that relaxing experience what you wanted to give as massage therapist , how client feels afterwards is anyway the most important thing , regards Mikko
You mentioned all the important points. We agree that the use of the stick is not so good for the best client experience.
My husband has big feet and he found the wooden stick helpful during 2 Thai massages at Bangkok. I though realize the hand, knuckle use is better and softer.
Thank you for sharing Shama! I learned Thai massage in Florida. I didn’t like the stick either. It felt uncomfortable to me as well. I prefer hands on any day to a stick.
I didn’t even know the stick was a thing until recently, I found it too strong and not relaxing at all. However, my feet did feel fantastic and I did feel revitalised so I am not sure if I should persevere with the stick next time or go back to the natural technique. I guess a couple more sessions and I will be able to make a better judgement.