24 Apr Part 1; Herbal Foot Soaks: What are they and why do we use them?
When I first heard about foot soaks I assumed they were a gimmick like foot-detox pads, who wouldn’t?
Popularity amount American Chinese Medicine practitioners has shot up, with some even using foot soaks during treatment. As a Chinese herbalist I didn’t expect much that I couldn’t already gain from giving internal herbs. It took a colleague to recommend me actually look at the formula being used.
As I looked at the formula I realized that the herbs were many of the same as I would give internally, which many clients has difficulty with taste and digestion of and that more importantly foot soaks could be another way giving these herbs without having to drink them!
Without having to drink them reduces the taste issue, because lets face it Chinese herbs taste BAD! Not only this but this could also make the herbs more tolerable for those with a weak digestion. For me a herbalist this is a win-win situation for giving herbs.
So lets talk about what they are!
Foot Soaks: What are they?
Foot soaks are nothing new. People in Asia have been soaking their feet in herbs for thousands of years. It’s common sense practice in places like China. Much like how many people currently have gym memberships, you’ll find many people with monthly memberships for foot soaks, similar to the Japanese love affair with sauna’s.
To quote a saying from China, “When a tree dies, it is the roots that die first.” So too, as our bodies age, it is our feet (and legs) that decline first.
Consider how our legs are as children; Your feet are warm and supple from our perfect circulation, no varicose veins, no spider capillaries, no cellulite and if we bruise we are quick to heal. Now imagine the effects of aging, in my 30’s now I am definitely seeing a big change, and imagine my grandmothers feet and legs; Your feet become cold from lack of circulation. This leads to venous insufficiency, which can be observed by protruding varicose veins and edema present in our ankles.
From a Chinese Medical viewpoint the lack of fresh, nourishing blood begins to deteriorate our nerves causing first pain in the feet, followed by worsening numbness. The fascia in our feet becomes stiff from lack of nourishment. Pretty soon our legs stiffen, leading to harsh impact on our knees, hips, back, and neck. The pain in our joints leads us to not want to be as active, further worsening the circulation in our body.
In Chinese Medicine HEALTH is not being physically fit or eating the perfect diet, it is in fact highly oxygenated, highly nutritious blood flowing through our bodies, into the organs, into the muscles, and into micro-capillaries into our flesh. In fact the only reason the body heals is through blood supply.
As Acupuncturists we actually joke about being gloried body plumbers, directing blood flow into areas. I kid you not!
How do they work?
Have you ever soaked your feet in warm water?
It’s an incredibly relaxing, and almost spa like treatment. Remember that feeling when you hop into a warm bath and let your muscles soak up the effects
Now imagine that feeling with profound healing effects that Chinese Herbs have. That’s how the foot soaks work. Initially, the feet and ankles get submerged in very nice warm water. This has an effect to cause the blood vessels in the feet to dilate, carrying fresh blood into the feet. The heat of the water also has an effect to unlock the precious constituents of the herbs. With the blood flow opened, the body is primed for the transdermal absorption of the herbs. Consider how we can use medicines on the skin, such as nicotine or hormonal patches.
This initial action of vasodilation has a mild tranquilizing effect and lowers blood pressure. As the soak continues, the herbs cause the vasodilation to spread up the legs and begin improving circulation into the rest of the body. As circulation improves in the chest and heart, there is a mild increase in heart rate. This is a very beneficial action as it simulates a mild cardiovascular exercise, something not easily done when someone suffers from severe pain.
The actions of the herbs, including the mild action of improved circulation also appears to improve energy (mitochondrial function) in those with chronic fatigue. As the circulation spreads further up and into the head, a mild sweat may occur.
What can they be used for?
We don’t readily prescribe foot soak to everyone, despite being an incredibly safe way to take Chinese herbs. Herbal foot soaks are used as primary and adjunct therapy for many chronic conditions such as:
Peripheral neuropathy, Fibromyalgia syndrome, low back pain, neck pain, knee pain, hip pain, arthritis pain, plantar fasciitis, Raynaud’s disease/phenomenon, infertility and other gynecological complaints, and some cardiovascular issues. Mainly issues of what we describe in Chinese Medicine as issues of poor circulation.
The foot soaks are the gentlest way to encourage circulation, especially in fragile individuals so fantastic where fatigue is an issue. Sometimes used in conjunction with internal herbs and sometimes used alone.
The foot soak contains the following Chinese herbs;
Du Yi Wei (Lamiophlomis rotata)
Qiang Huo (Rhizoma et Radix Notopterygii)
Hong Jing Tian (Rhodiola Crenulata)
Zang Hong Hua (Crocus sativa stigma)
Zang Chang Pu (Rhizoma Acori Calami)
Ku Shen (Radix Sophorae Flavescentis)
Ai Ye (Folium Artemisiae Argyi)
Gan Jiang (Rhizoma Zingiberis)
The Chinese herbal foot soaks are actually Tibetan Herbal Foot Soaks from the Ganzi area of Sichuan traditionally known as the Shangri-La region. In Part 2 will explore the herbs and their individual benefits, as well as information about the charity work by the team who created the Chinese Herbal foot soaks.
About the author
Lauren Lanzoni is the Acupuncturist, Chinese Herbalist and owner of Balanced Life Health Care. To find out more about Lauren click here and to make an appointment to see Lauren at her clinic in Ferntree Gully click here