Reflexology involves the application of manual pressure to specific points or areas of the feet called "reflex points" that are believed to correspond to other parts of the body. Reflexology is often used with the intention to relieve stress or prevent/treat physical disorders. Pressure may also be applied to the hands or ears. Sessions often last from 30 to 60 minutes, and may be part of a 4 to 8 week course of therapy.
Reflexology charts consist of pictures of the soles of the feet on which diagrams of corresponding internal organs or parts of the body are drawn. For example, charts may display that the toes correspond to the head and neck, the ball of the foot to the chest and lungs, the arch of the foot to the internal organs, the heel to the sciatic nerve and pelvic area, and the bone along the arch of the foot to the spine. The right side of the body is believed to be reflected in the right foot, and the left side in the left foot.
Reflexologists often take a full client history before examining the bare feet systematically, with the patient lying on a treatment table, couch, or reclining in a chair. During treatment, clients typically remain fully clothed, sitting with legs raised or lying on a treatment table. Unlike massage, which involves a generalized rubbing motion, reflexologists use their hands to apply pressure to specific points of the foot.
Practitioners start by gently massaging the feet, and then begin to apply pressure to selected reflex points on the feet. The strength of pressure used often varies between practitioners, and from patient to patient. This therapy should never be painful.
For lubrication, therapists may use lotion or oils (some which contain aromatherapy products). The reflexologist and client may converse throughout treatment or may remain silent, depending on client preference. Occasionally, practitioners will use instruments on the feet during therapy (for example, sticks of wood, clothespins, combs, rubber balls, rubber bands, tongue depressors, wire brushes, special massagers, hand probes, or clamps). Some reflexology instruction books state that clients may feel a tingling sensation in the part of the body corresponding to the reflex point being stimulated, although this has not been documented scientifically.
Techniques similar to reflexology have existed for thousands of years, and were used by ancient Egyptians and early Chinese. In the early 20th Century, an American ear, nose, and throat physician, William Fitzgerald, MD, suggested that the foot could be "mapped" to other areas of the body in order to diagnose and treat medical conditions. He divided the body into 10 zones and labelled sections of the foot he believed to control each zone. Dr. Fitzgerald suggested that gentle pressure on a particular area of the foot could generate relief in the targeted zone. This process was originally named zone therapy.
In the 1930s, Eunice Ingham, a nurse and physiotherapist, further developed these maps to include specific reflex points. At this time, the name zone therapy was changed to reflexology. Modern reflexologists in the United States often learn Ingham's method or a similar technique developed by the reflexologist Laura Norman.
Reflexology is primarily based on Western physiological concepts of reflexes and the nervous system, rather than Oriental concepts of energy meridians or acupuncture points. Thus reflexology was not introduced as a form of energy medicine per se, but rather as a form of massage therapy and bodywork based on Western anatomical principles.
Reflexology is sometimes confused with acupressure (shiatsu), which is based solely on Oriental energetic principles. While the two modalities are based on different theories of mechanisms of action, some modern reflexologists now incorporate some Oriental energetic principles in their understanding of the possible mechanisms of reflexology.
Because practitioners range from those who taught themselves from books to individuals who attended training courses and belong to professional associations, we believe that you should only receive treatment from those who are properly qualified, such as the providers listed on MojoGuru.
Exactly how reflexology might work remains unclear, and several possible explanations have been put forward. One theory is that the body contains an invisible life force, or energy field, that when blocked can result in illness. It is proposed that stimulating nerve endings in the foot can unblock and increase the flow of vital energy to various parts of the body, and promote healing. This account is similar to theories behind other techniques in which mapped points are treated to affect corresponding remote body parts or conditions, such as acupuncture or acupressure.
A different theory is that pressure exerted by reflexologists may release endorphins (compounds that alter pain sensations). Yet another explanation is that compression of specific points ("cutaneo-organ reflex points") stimulates nerves that form connections with other parts of the body, and may have distant effects as part of a reflex arc. Other theories include promotion of lymphatic flow or dissolving of accumulated uric acid crystals via direct stimulation of the feet. Reliable scientific research in these areas is limited.
Although most reflexologists formally claim that these relationships are not used to diagnose disease, practicing reflexologists sometimes assert that tenderness or a gritty feeling of the feet represents current or past disease in the corresponding area of the body.
The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
Abdominal pain, acne, alcoholism, allergy (diagnosis), arthritis, breast cancer, bursitis, chest pain (non-cardiac), chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic illness, dementia, digestive disorders, eczema, elimination of blood toxins, fatigue, fibromyalgia, glandular disorders, gum inflammation, gynecologic disorders, high blood pressure, improvement of blood supply, infant development / neonatal care, insomnia, intestinal disorders, kidney stones, liver disease, neck pain, neck stiffness, pain, pancreatic disorders, paralysis, peripheral neuropathy (in HIV/AIDS), postmenopausal symptoms, postoperative nausea and vomiting, multiple sclerosis, "restoration" of homeostasis, sciatica, shingles (herpes zoster and post-herpetic neuralgia), spine problems, stress-related disorders, whiplash.
Note: MojoGuru does not recommend any treatment, therapy or particular provider. We do not recommend that you self-diagnose. If you are suffering from a health condition and before starting a new treatment or therapy, we do recommend that you first consult a GP. More