Article Text

Download PDFPDF
World at work: Health hazards among foot massage workers in China
  1. X Ye1,
  2. O Wong2,
  3. H Fu1
  1. 1School of Public Health, Fudan University, Shanghai, China
  2. 2Applied Health Science, lnc., San Mateo, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr X Ye
 School of Public Health, Fudan University Medical Center, 138 Yi Xue Yuan Road, Shanghai, 200032, China;

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

A unique challenge to the medical community

Reflexology or foot massage has long been part of Chinese tradition and culture. It is believed that foot massage can not only maintain and promote health but also cure a variety of ailments. Foot massage is considered a form of relaxation and, to some extent, a luxury. With improved economy, foot massage has become widely popular in China, especially in coastal cities that have benefited from the recent expanded economy. For example, in Shanghai alone there are 1300–2000 foot massage facilities and the total number of foot massage workers in Shanghai is estimated to be close to 30 000. In Shenzhen, the booming city just north of Hong Kong, the number of foot massage facilities is estimated at 3000–4000, and the number of foot massage workers at more than 40 000.1 Approximately 90% of foot massage workers in large cities are young females (aged 18–25), and most came from poor inland rural areas, where jobs are scarce and wages are low.

Foot massage workers are exposed to not only biological, chemical, and physical hazards, but also emotional and psychological stresses. The health problems associated with foot massage workers are not limited to China. Foot massage is also popular in other regions in Asia, such as Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore. In addition, foot massage facilities can also be found in Asian communities in large cities in America and Europe.


Foot massage facilities range in size from small storefront shops of no more than 40–50 squared metres to huge multi-floor buildings. The storefront of a typical small foot massage shop is shown in fig 1. Small foot massage facilities usually consist of a single open room that can accommodate four or five clients at one time. Ventilation, plumbing, and …

View Full Text


  • Competing interests: none declared