Last Updated December 20th, 2021
What is reflexology?
Reflexology is a systematic practice in which applying pressure in one part of the feet or hands improves the health in other parts of the body. According to reflexology, various points on the feet and hands are mapped to specific parts of the body. This includes internal organs as well. By applying pressure at various points of the feet and palms, it is possible to energize and rejuvenate the different parts of the body.
Reflexology is non-invasive and non-pharmacological. It, therefore, complements other forms of medicine well and has been found beneficial in studies for many health conditions. Many of these studies are anecdotal, though small clinical trials have been done. Reflexology is also referred to as foot reflexotherapy, zone therapy, etc.
How is reflexology done?
Reflexology or reflexotherapy is not just about massaging the hands and feet. Neither is it just about applying pressure in particular areas of the hands and the feet. It is about applying the right kind of pressure in the right zone on the hands and feet. A map of the hand or foot that he is massaging will guide the reflexologist. This will ensure that the right area receives his attention so that the particular medical condition associated with that area may be treated.
They then use several techniques to apply pressure in the right zones. Some of these techniques are thumb walking through the various zones identified by the map, deep pressure on the arch of the foot, and soft kneading through the ball of the foot. Reflexologists may also use certain tools in their therapy. Some of these are rubber bands, balls, and wooden sticks etc.
The reflexologist looks for tender, crunchy, or sensitive areas on the feet. According to reflexology, such areas indicate that certain parts of the body are not functioning well and hence need treatment. By pressing these areas and gently massaging them, it will be possible to kick-start the body’s self-healing capabilities.
It might sound a little strange, but there have been two studies from Japan using magnetic resonance where the massaging of a spot on the feet caused increased blood flow to the corresponding part of the body. This is a good indication that the basic theory of reflexology has a scientific basis.
Origins of Reflexology
Reflexology is at least 5000 years old and its oldest recorded use was in Egypt and China. Ancient Egyptian wall paintings dating back more than 4000 years show how reflexology was practiced in Ancient Egypt.
By the early 14th Century, reflexology had become popular in Europe as ‘reflex zone therapy’. The body was divided into ten longitudinal zones and the lines dividing them terminated in the toes. The treatment was administered based on these interconnections of particular lines starting from the toe connecting to particular organs.
The development of modern reflexology began in the 20th century with the work of William Fitzgerald and physiotherapist Eunice Ingham. They built on the reflex zone theory by mapping the entire body, including internal organs, to specific reflex points on the feet. Thus, the first reflexology foot chart was created.
The theory behind reflexology
Reflexology is based on the fact that there is an energy flow within the body. This energy flow is referred to as Qi. This happens through meridian pathways, which run through the body. These pathways can be likened to rivers, which run through lands nourishing them with greenery and supporting life. When the flow of Qi is smooth and in good amounts, then the person is not only healthy physically but mentally as well. The quality, quantity, and the balance of Qi in the body are important.
Disease is the disruption of the flow or the presence of blockages to this flow of energy. These disruptions or blockages are a result of stress, injury, poisoning, poor nutrition etc. When the disruption to the flow of Qi is prolonged, the body becomes susceptible to disease.
How does reflexology differ from acupressure?
Acupressure and reflexology are both based on adjusting the flow of energy when it gets disrupted. However, there are a few differences between reflexology and acupressure. First, reflexology, in its present form, is a more recent development as opposed to acupressure, which has relatively remained unchanged at its core.
Second, the treatment in reflexology focuses on only the feet, the hands and the ears. In acupressure, however, the treatment focuses on several points scattered on the meridian channels. Third, reflexology does not generally use thermal methods, whereas acupressure does. And fourth, the risks of there being any heavy pressure on body tissues are higher in acupressure than in reflexology, given the nature of acupressure to focus on deep tissue massage also.
Benefits of Reflexology
Reflexology has a range of benefits for those undergoing the therapy. Some of these benefits are:
- Drugs are not used in reflexology. This makes the practice of reflexology simpler and subject to fewer It also becomes more economical and easier to manage.
- Reflexology is a tried-and-tested practice since ancient times for relieving pain and stress, and it has very few side effects.
- Reflexology can be done anytime and anywhere. It can be used in serious medical conditions and applications.
- Reflexology is carried out in a relaxed manner and in a number of sessions. Generally, the first session only involves relieving stress, so that subsequent sessions will elicit better self-healing responses from the body.
Uses of Reflexology
Reflexology has traditionally been used to treat several diseases. Some of the health conditions that benefit from reflexology are:
Pain in labor
Recently, a study was conducted to understand whether reflexology was effective in reducing pain during labor in those at low risk of complications in pregnancy. The study proved that the pain of labor in the group receiving reflexology was reduced significantly when compared with the control group. However, reflexology was only able to reduce the pain in the earlier stages of labor. In the later stages of labor, the pain could not be controlled effectively.
Stress affects everyone, especially with the factors contributing to it becoming more and more relevant. Studies have shown that reflexology helps reduce stress. It does so by releasing endorphins, chemicals that make you feel happy, into the blood. These endorphins help you deal with stress. The management of stress in this manner also points to the possible use of reflexology for reducing anxiety as well.
Lower back pain
In a study, patients with lower back pain responded positively when reflexology treatment was provided. The pain that they experienced was analyzed by using VAS (visual analog scale) scores. A visual analog scale is used when it is difficult to provide an exact measure of something, for instance, pain in the body. It will be represented by different colors, each color representing a particular range of values. All the patients reported an appreciable reduction in back pain at the end of the study.
Reflexology could be effective in providing relief from the pain associated with migraine or even other headaches. In a recent study, a group of patients who were suffering from acute pain resulting from migraines was referred to a physiotherapist for a 6-month period. The effectiveness of the treatment was recorded by using interviews, headache diaries, and questionnaires. Of the group, 53% said that the pain was reduced, 23% experienced no recurrence of the pain, 11% were able to discontinue the medication for migraines, and 13% reported no changes.
It was observed that those with multiple sclerosis showed a notable improvement in their symptoms when reflexology was done. Symptoms like nocturia (nighttime urination) and urinary incontinence (urgency to urinate) are associated with multiple sclerosis. This is because multiple sclerosis affects the activity of the bladder. Multiple sclerosis reduces the strength of the muscles. It also causes the muscles in your legs to become stiff and undergo spasms. The study proved that reflexology helps with reducing the spasticity of muscles and the urinary symptoms but it does not increase muscle strength.
Neuropathy, a condition that impairs the normal functioning of nerves, commonly affects those with diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes. In a recent study, it was proven that tingling sensation and pain were reduced in those undergoing reflexology and taking conventional medicines. The pain was reduced by about 54% as compared to the control group (which showed a slight reduction in pain on only conventional medicines). Better glycemic control was also achieved with reflexology in the patients who were in the experimental group.
Risks of Reflexology
Reflexology is not known to cause any adverse effects in healthy people. However, people with certain conditions must not opt for reflexology:
- Open wounds on your feet
- Foot ulcers
- Fungal infections
- Blood circulation problems in your feet
- Thyroid problems
- Low platelet count
The mild side effects generally reported after a reflexology session are an emotional sensitivity (feeling intense emotions more frequently), lightheadedness, and tenderness of the feet.
Reflexology and pregnancy
Many doctors actually recommend reflexology, as it is beneficial for relaxing women during pregnancy. It has benefits not just for physical health but emotional health as well. Studies have also proven that reflexology helps with reducing stress and anxiety and improving sleep in pregnant women. It has also been observed that there is a reduction of low back pain and pelvic girdle pain during labor. Reflexology can bring about uterine contractions. Because of this, it is necessary to find a therapist who is trained to work with pregnant women.
Is reflexology the no-drug therapy that you should be interested in?
Reflexology has slowly become the therapy of choice for people who cannot go in for more rigorous massage therapies. That may be so, yet there are a few medical conditions that may require you to obtain a doctor’s consent before reflexology. If you are well aware of your health conditions and are convinced that you would be safe, there is a bunch of benefits to be had from reflexology.
People with a number of illnesses ranging from multiple sclerosis to chronic pain to diabetes have benefited from reflexology. Many doctors claim that reflexology provides much anxiety, stress, and pain relief in pregnant women.
In all these cases, remember, however, that conventional medicine was never abandoned. Reflexology was used only for the management of health conditions. In addition, reflexology is not concrete science. It is a treatment method based on a belief system. Is it really a leap of faith? Not really. This is because its benefits have been proven by science. It is up to you to discover them for yourself if you wish to.
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