Reflexology practitioners access their clients’ nervous systems by pressing on reflex zones in their hands, ears, and feet. This process creates nerve signals that pass through patients’ connective tissues and works to reset their stress responses, which may have a wide variety of health benefits.
Ancient and Modern Reflexology
For millennia, various cultures across the globe have practiced reflexology techniques. Native Americans, Ancient Egyptians, and Chinese medicine practitioners passed these healing modalities down through generations. About a hundred years ago, Western medical researcher Dr. William Fitzgerald presented these ancient healing practices to his patients as “zone therapy.” In the decades that followed, Eunice Ingham developed zone therapy techniques into what is now known as reflexology.
Massage therapists use myofascial release techniques to break up “sticking points” in the tissues that surround, support, and connect their clients’ muscles. Similarly, reflexology practitioners use these connective tissues to influence their patients’ autonomic nervous systems and hormonal responses (fight-and-flight mechanisms). As demonstrated by Professor Alfred Pischinger, fascial cells make up an electrocellular matrix that transmits information, maintains homeostasis (optimal health), and helps the body recover from injury and disease.
In a 2008 study, a team of researchers at the Tohoku University School of Medicine in Sendai, Japan studied the effects of reflexology treatments with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) scanner. They stimulated reflexology points on test subjects’ feet associated with their shoulders, eyes, and small intestines. The FMRI scanner showed nervous system activity in sensory areas related to the feet and in the targeted areas: shoulders, eyes, and intestines. This means reflex points may have measurable connections to other parts of the body.
The Health Benefits of Reflexology
The ancient practice of reflexology has become popular in recent decades, especially in Asia and Europe, and the approach has gained credibility among medical, governmental, and business leaders. For example, some private companies and civic organizations in Denmark hire reflexologists to care for their employees. Researchers have found that this practice, which began over two decades ago, benefited both employees and companies. Workers who received reflexology therapy took fewer sick days, saving employers a great deal of money. Even those who enjoyed only a small number of workplace reflexology treatments reported lower stress and increased job satisfaction.
Though reflexologists put pressure on people’s bodies as massage therapists do, they don’t “work” soft tissues to reduce tension and promote healing in a physical sense. Instead, they use pressure points to access clients’ nervous systems and heal them from within, in much the same way that acupuncturists and accupressurists use certain points on the body to affect inner states.
Reflexology is used worldwide as a complementary treatment with allopathic (Western) medicine. It can help treat a wide variety of conditions, including:
- Heart problems
- Asthma, sinusitis, and headaches
- Stress and anxiety
- Kidney and bladder dysfunction
Your First Reflexology Session
Before your session begins, your practitioner will likely ask about your health history to make sure reflexology is right for you. For example, if you have plantar warts on your feet, you may want to avoid reflexology, or you may wish to have your practitioner work on another part of your body. Also, you may want to consult with your physician or avoid reflexology if you’re pregnant or have certain heart conditions.
When you talk with your reflexologist, share any and all questions you have about the procedure, and make sure your reflexologist provides complete and thorough answers. If you’re uncomfortable at any time during the session, you have the right to pause and ask questions or stop the treatment.
Your reflexologist will probably ask you about your health goals for the session. Though specific areas of the feet do correspond to certain parts of the body, your practitioner will apply pressure to all areas of your feet, which opens up nerve pathways and promotes relaxation. Most reflexologists start at their clients’ toes or fingers and work their way down to the heels of the hands or feet.
During your session, communicate with your practitioner about any pain you may feel. They can work with these areas to engage your nervous system and release your discomfort. You may also experience the sensation of energy rushing through your body or to a specific area. Your reflexologist will understand common reactions to treatment like releasing laughter or tears, perspiring, feeling chilly or sleepy, or developing a strong thirst.
- Bliss, S. (2013). Foot reflexology for simple self-healing. Retrieved from http://guardianlv.com/2013/06/foot-reflexology-for-simple-self-healing
- Nakamarua, T., Miurab, N., Fukushima, A., & Kawashima, R. (2008). Somatotopical relationships between cortical activity and reflex areas in reflexology: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Neuroscience Letters, 448(1), 6-9.
- Reflexology. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/reflexology
- What can I expect in a first reflexology visit? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/reflexology/what-can-i-expect-first-reflexology-visit
- What is reflexology? (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.reflexology.org.nz/what-is-reflexology