Feet as Massage Tools

By Barb Frye
[Body Awareness]

Ready to try something new? Explore using your feet as massage tools. In modalities such as ashiatsu, ayurvedic, Chinese, and Thai massage, practitioners use their feet during sessions. These methods are extremely popular among clients, and therapists who use their feet for massage report very few ergonomic challenges. 

The advantage of using the foot is that, unlike the hand, it is designed to bear weight, meaning you can use it to apply pressure without causing joint stress. Like your hand, your foot provides you with several surface options. Specialized training in barefoot massage is essential (for more information, visit specialists like www.deepfeet.com), but for starters:

• You can use the sole of your foot to apply lengthening strokes and light to deep pressure. Use the sole to mold itself to the contours of the body, for example on the back or leg, to create a comforting and relaxing feeling (Image 1). 

• The lateral and medial sides of the foot are effective for pressure and lengthening strokes. Using either side can be effective on the arms, back, and legs (Image 2).

• Use your heel like your elbow to apply static and moving pressure (Image 3). You can use it effectively on thick, large muscles, as well as thin, smaller muscles. 

Partner Practice

Try practicing on a partner to get the feel of using your feet. Ask your partner to lie prone on a floor mat. Start by sitting on a chair and use only one foot to work your partner’s upper back. Once you’re comfortable and confident, try using both feet. 

After practicing while sitting, try a standing position. When using your foot in a standing position, make sure your ankle, knee, and hip stay relatively aligned and keep your toes relaxed. It’s helpful to use some kind of extra support, such as a hiking pole or chairback, to maintain your balance. Creating a tripod effect with your working leg, standing foot, and third support piece will increase your sense of balance (Image 4). 

To avoid inadvertently slipping on your partner, use very little lubrication. You want to use just enough for a gliding effect, but not too much to create instability. Move slowly, checking in frequently with your partner’s comfort level. Make sure your toenails are well-groomed, and always wash your feet thoroughly before starting your work.

Self-Care Tip

Many people suffer from stiffness in their feet, and this might be especially true if you’re using your feet to work on clients. If you have difficulty walking first thing in the morning, or your feet feel stiff and sore while sitting, be sure to treat yourself to a foot massage.

If this is your first time working with the feet, be patient with yourself, and take your time. Enjoy experimenting with your foot, trying out all kinds of possibilities. Your foot is a wonderful tool, and finding out what it can offer should be fun and playful. If you feel this type of work is for you, pursue a training program and incorporate it into your practice. 

  Barb Frye has been a massage educator and therapist since 1990. She coordinated IBM’s body mechanics program and authored Body Mechanics for Manual Therapists: A Functional Approach to Self-Care (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010), now in its third edition. She has a massage and Feldenkrais practice at the Pluspunkt Center for Therapy and Advanced Studies near Zurich, Switzerland. Contact her at barbfrye@hotmail.com.