Reflexology is a type of massage therapy based on the theory that all parts of the body are represented by specific spots in the hands and feet, and that stimulating these spots can have a positive effect on the corresponding body part. It's been found to relieve anxiety and pain, assist with loss of sensation and pain in those with diabetes, ease constipation, and help reduce premenstrual symptoms. It can even alleviate sensory, motor, and urinary complications in people with multiple sclerosis.
Drawings on Egyptian tombs appear to indicate that foot massages were used therapeutically some 5,000 years ago. Today, there are many variations of massage practiced around the world, including reflexology, which works by massaging specific areas on the hands and feet to stimulate neural pathways.1 According to the doctrine of reflexology, every part of the body, including glands and organs, are represented by specific areas (reflexes) on the feet and hands. For instance, the tip of the toe on the foot is related to the left hemisphere of the brain. Health problems in any part of the body can be detected in the corresponding reflex area, and stimulating or massaging that area will have a positive effect on the diseased part of the body.2 By applying pressure to specific points in the body, reflexology is similar to acupressure, but it only focuses on pressure points in the hands and feet instead of throughout the entire body.
During a reflexology session, the therapist will first collect information about your medical concerns, diet, and lifestyle before examining your feet. This may be followed by a gentle massage, and then specific techniques like thumb and finger walking (where the thumb or finger “walks” across the reflex area) or the hook and backup (where the thumb exerts pressure on a particular point rather than the wider reflex area). Lotions or medicinal oils are generally not applied, though the therapist might sometimes use talc as a medium. An average session usually lasts about an hour.34
How Does It Work?
Although the specific mechanisms behind reflexology are still mostly unknown, many theories seek to explain its beneficial effects:
The Energy Theory: According to this theory, reflexes are linked to other parts of the body through energy pathways. Applying pressure on the reflexes supports the natural balance of energy and promotes healing within the body. 5
The Lactic Acid Theory: This theory suggests that lactic acid settles as microcrystals in the feet and that reflexology crushes these crystals, allowing energy to flow freely.6
It has also been suggested that reflexology improves blood flow and has a relaxing effect on the autonomic nervous system.7
How Is It Useful?
Relieves Premenstrual Syndrome
Want to cure your PMS? Book a reflexology session. A study found that 30 minutes of reflexology treatment once a week for two months resulted in a decrease in premenstrual symptoms. The participants also felt relaxed by the treatment (many of them even fell asleep during the sessions) and stated that they felt more energetic the next day. The researchers suggest that these results may be due to positive changes in adrenal, pituitary, and gonadal activity.8
Reduces Diabetes Pain
People with diabetes often suffer from pain in their lower limbs and may even experience loss of sensation in their legs or feet. Research has found that reflexology can actually improve these symptoms, as well as nerve conductivity and blood glucose levels.9
Manages Anxiety and Pain
If you’ve ever received any type of therapeutic massage, you’ll know how quickly your anxiety can evaporate with just the right touch. In one study, participants with lung or breast cancer experienced significant relief from anxiety when they were given foot reflexology. Breast cancer patients also experienced a reduction in pain, but, interestingly, those with lung cancer – the majority of whom were male – seemed to show a greater reduction in anxiety than those with breast cancer.10
When receiving a reflexology treatment, endorphins are released, muscles relax, and blood circulation increases, all which can bring some much-needed pain relief. One study found that nurses with chronic lower back pain experienced lowered intensity of pain after receiving reflexology.11
Reflexology techniques such as thumb walking can help to reduce constipation and increase bowel movements. In one pilot study, participants with chronic constipation underwent reflexology sessions once a week for 6 weeks. About 94% of the participants reported improvement in their symptoms.12 Even children seem to benefit. A study which looked at children aged between 1 and 12 years with constipation found reflexology to be helpful as a supplementary treatment to standard medical care. Over the course of 12 weeks, reflexology improved bowel movements, pain, general health, and behavior.13
Improves Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
Reflexology can even help patients with multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system that currently has no cure. One study found that patients showed improvement in sensory, motor, and urinary symptoms after just 11 weeks of reflexology treatment.14 Those with multiple sclerosis also found that reflexology helped them relax and sleep better, reduced pain, stopped spasms, stabilized bowel and bladder problems, and helped with balance.15
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||RAA’s Definition of Reflexology, Reflexology Association Of America.|
|2, 3.||↑||Reflexology, Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria.2015.|
|4.||↑||Kunz, Kevin, and Barbara Kunz. The Complete guide to foot reflexology. Reflexology Research Project, 1993.|
|5.||↑||Reflexologist, National Careers Service.|
|6, 10.||↑||Stephenson, N. L., Sally P. Weinrich, and Abbas S. Tavakolil. “The effects of foot reflexology on anxiety and pain in patients with breast and lung cancer.” In Oncology Nursing Forum-Oncology Nursing Society, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 67-76. [Pittsburgh, PA, etc.] Oncology Nursing Society., 2000.|
|7.||↑||Williamson, Jan, Adrian White, Anna Hart, and Edzard Ernst. “Randomised controlled trial of reflexology for menopausal symptoms.” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology 109, no. 9 (2002): 1050-1055.|
|8.||↑||Oleson, Terry, and William Flocco. “Randomized controlled study of premenstrual symptoms treated with ear, hand, and foot reflexology.” Obstetrics & Gynecology 82, no. 6 (1993): 906-911.|
|9.||↑||Dalal, Krishna, V. Bharathi Maran, Ravindra M. Pandey, and Manjari Tripathi. “Determination of efficacy of reflexology in managing patients with diabetic neuropathy: a randomized controlled clinical trial.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014 (2014).|
|11.||↑||Eghbali, Maryam, Reza Safari, Fatemeh Nazari, and Samereh Abdoli. “The effects of reflexology on chronic low back pain intensity in nurses employed in hospitals affiliated with Isfahan University of Medical Sciences.” Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research 17, no. 3 (2012): 239.|
|12.||↑||Woodward, Sue, Christine Norton, and K. Louise Barriball. “A pilot study of the effectiveness of reflexology in treating idiopathic constipation in women.” Complementary therapies in clinical practice 16, no. 1 (2010): 41-46.|
|13.||↑||Gordon, J. S., E. M. Alder, G. Matthews-smith, I. HendryENDRY, and D. C. Wilson. “HOW EFFECTIVE IS REFLEXOLOGY WHEN PRACTISED BY PARENTS AS AN ADJUNCT TO STANDARD MEDICAL TREATMENT IN CHILDHOOD IDIOPATHIC CONSTIPATION?-RESULTS OF A RANDOMISED CONTROLLED TRIAL (RCT).” Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition 42, no. 5 (2006): E55.|
|14.||↑||Siev-Ner, I., D. Gamus, L. Lerner-Geva, and A. Achiron. “Reflexology treatment relieves symptoms of multiple sclerosis: a randomized controlled study.” Multiple sclerosis 9, no. 4 (2003): 356-361.|
|15.||↑||Esmonde, Lisa, and Andrew F. Long. “Complementary therapy use by persons with multiple sclerosis: benefits and research priorities.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 14, no. 3 (2008): 176-184.|