I decided to go for a foot massage at Bien Etre Blind Massage (Everton Park/Outram Park) last Friday. It was affordable enough at only $28 for a 40 minute herbal foot soaking plus foot reflexology. Shuang Spa – literally just down the stairs from our chiropractic clinic – charges $88 for a 60-minute Swedish massage.

Yes, I went for a foot massage. Shocking, I know. Today we want to discuss why I, as a chiropractor who openly writes against manual therapy, would go for a massage. Does that mean I am a hypocrite?

(Just to clarify, I didn’t meet anyone there who was blind.)

What is foot reflexology?

Of course in Square One’s style, we have to talk about what is foot reflexology.

First, reflexology refers to the study how a region of a body is related to a different part of the body.

Second, foot reflexology refers to how different parts of the foot relates to different internal organs and body parts. This is mapped out in a reflexology map.

Third, it is believed that applying different pressure at different spots of the foot can have an effect on different parts of the body.

To put that altogether, by applying pressure to different parts of your foot, according to a reflexology map, you would be able to experience certain health benefits including improvement in lower back pain, asthma, and peripheral neuropathy symptoms.

p.s. I totally don’t subscribe to that.

Podiatry vs. foot reflexology

When we talk about foot reflexology, we don’t really think of podiatry. For us, they are two separate, distinct professions even though both professions work with the foot.

If we look into the history of foot reflexology, the earliest records were actually found in Egypt. While studies have claimed foot reflexology started in China 5000 years ago, there are no clear documentation to support that claim.

Podiatry started much later compared to foot reflexology. It started around the same time as chiropractic, osteopathy, homeopathy, etc and was regulated as a profession in United States in 1895. Not surprisingly podiatry as a profession rejects foot reflexology as an unproven, unscientific practice.

To put that into perspective, podiatry is a legitimised health care profession that bases itself – as a profession – on scientific research. Foot reflexology, on the other hand, is based on principles or systems that are metaphysical in nature and are not backed by the latest scientific research.

It is no surprise that we do not perceive the professions to be the same.

Did I go for a foot massage or foot reflexology?

I don’t think at any point in time did it cross my mind that I went for foot reflexology.

I am sure there that there was no expectations, on my part, when it comes to foot reflexology to fixing any health problems of mine. To be clear, I didn’t have any feet ache or pain when I decided to go.

Furthermore, the therapist didn’t even ask if there were any health problems I was looking to address. In fact, we exchanged less than ten words through my entire time there.

From my perspective, I had a foot massage.

Is it okay for some one who doesn’t believe in massage to go for one?

To be clear, our position at Square One is that manual therapy (including chiropractic adjustments and massage) does not deliver long time pain relief. When it comes to your aches, pain, and injury, massage as a treatment is not going to be the long term pain solution you are looking for.

Remember when I said earlier, I didn’t for foot reflexology to have any health problems addressed. In fact, my feet were perfectly fine and they were not even remotely sore.

(It was painful when they probed into it though. Probably more painful than I’d like.)

This is the difference. I did not utilise foot massage as a pain solution or as an injury management treatment. I was at the foot massage for the sole purpose of the shiok factor.

Would I go to a podiatrist for a foot rub? No.

Will I go to a foot reflexologist for plantar fasciitis or an ankle sprain? No.

Massage vs. chiropractic care

If you have chronic lower back pain or neck pain, would you choose to see a chiropractor or a massage therapist?

You may book an appointment to see a chiropractor. If that is what you did, the chiropractor’s job is to diagnose your symptoms, recommend and provide the treatments you require to achieve recovery.

For Square One, this is means exercise, education, and advice. Manual therapy? Sure, we can offer them. Will that make a difference to your recovery? Probably not.

For us, it’s about the intent and the expectation. If you are intending to get better and you expect to feel better, you shouldn’t be seeking manual therapy.

Too often we get individuals who want chiropractic treatment in the form of chiropractic adjustments to help permanently resolve their lower back pain. This is an unfair expectation. We already know from research that this is not likely to happen. When we advised these individuals accordingly, they choose to seek care elsewhere.

In short, they choose to seek treatment from a clinician who resonates with their personal biases, attitudes, belief systems. Even though they are likely to not get better.

From our perspective, that’s just silly and a waste of money.

On the other hand, if you choose to see chiropractic adjustment as a shiok factor – as I would when I go for a foot massage – that is reasonable.

If you are going to choose chiropractic care or massage therapy is not aligned with the latest clinical guidelines recommendation, you should reasonably expect yourself to not get better. This makes sense to me.

Six takeaway lessons in seeking the right treatment

  1. Always know what you are after – are you looking to feel shiok or looking to achieve full recovery?
  2. If you are looking to feel shiok, do whatever that makes you feel the best
  3. If you are looking to recovery from an injury or a long-term pain solution, do your research to see what the latest clinical guidelines say about that specific condition
  4. Accept that recovery is almost never shiok and smooth-sailing
  5. Would you go to a podiatrist for a foot rub for the shiok-ness? If not, why would you go to a chiropractor to have back crack just cos it feels good?
  6. If you think recovery is about going to a chiropractor and get your back cracked – despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting to the contrary – examine your biases and attitudes towards recovery. Challenge them and go back to point 4.

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