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Massage Tutorial: Reflexology basics, techniques, & routine

Want to incorporate some basic reflexology techniques into your massage routine? This is my approach, and it doesn’t require any special knowledge of meridians, organs, etc. It’s just a unique way of working with the foot for extended periods, providing a very different (and wonderful) foot massage experience.

The main technique used in reflexology (3:00) is a compress/slide tool that I’ve most often heard called the “inch-worm.” As I demonstrate, it’s important to keep your thumb reasonably close to the rest of your hand as you do this, allowing your thumb muscles to mostly act as stabilizers rather than prime movers. Apply pressure, straighten the thumb, then apply pressure again, allowing your thumb to inch its way up/across the foot as you do. Feel free to lighten up as you straighten your thumb joint to prevent thumb strain and pain under the thumbnail.

The basic reflexology routine (5:51) starts with strips up the foot, following lines from the heel to each toe. You’ll then follow a grid across the metatarsophalangeal joints before working with each individual toe. Follow a line around the arches and heel of the foot, and then work with the dorsal surface, following 4 lines defined by the spaces between the toes. Finally, sink into the ankle as you bring it through a gentle circumduction.

As you sink into the arches and metatarsophalangeal joints, you’ll feel an interesting landscape under your thumbs, with lots of “crunchies” and bumps. This is normal for the foot, and is particularly palpable when performing reflexology-style techniques. Exploring these can feel good for the client, but don’t feel compelled to “break these up.” These aren’t knots or lactic acid, etc., but rather normal features of a foot that has been used for walking.

At all times, track your client’s face and breathing, and stay in frequent communication to ensure that none of the techniques or areas are painful or unpleasant. While reflexology is naturally more intense than Swedish foot massage, it shouldn’t be painful. Many clients will find themselves falling asleep during these treatments, and waking up feeling like a thousand bucks.

Remember, always listen to your body! Switch thumbs before fatigue sets in, and alter or discard any techniques that cause you pain or discomfort. Let me know if you have any trouble in the comments and we’ll try to troubleshoot. I recommend starting by practicing on yourself and friends, and to take a workshop or long-form reflexology course if you find yourself interested in this modality! I recommend anything by Karen Ball, who taught me the basics more than a decade ago (my apologies to her for anything I’ve forgotten or changed!):

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