Reflexology is a type of alternative medical practice where pressure is applied to the hands or feet to promote healing in other organs such as the liver, stomach, and brain. Reflexology has been practiced for centuries in different cultures most notably in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It was used by healers in ancient China for a wide array of conditions such as depression, stress, joint pain plus more.
Reflexology is visually similar to a foot massage but they are very different. Both are forms of foot therapy but a foot massage focuses on bringing relief to the feet from conditions like plantar fasciitis while reflexology goes far beyond the feet.
How does reflexology work?
Reflexology works by stimulating your reflex points to promote healing in their corresponding organ. Reflex points are areas on your feet or hands that represent an organ in the body. By applying pressure to a certain reflex point, a reflexologist can tell if there is potentially an ailment in its corresponding organ. If it is confirmed that there may be an abnormality in the organ, certain types of pressure is applied to the point to promote normal function to the organ.
Reflex points on the feet and their corresponding organs.
Reflexology also uses acupoints or acupuncture points in the feet and hands to improve health in other parts of the body.
There are other theories that attempt to explain how reflexology works. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is believed that reflexology works by unblocking Chi (energy) allowing it to flow freely in the body.
Another theory known as the Zone theory suggests that the body is divided into 10 zones. The theory states that each of these zones corresponds to certain parts of the hands and feet. Therefore, through applying pressure to these areas in the hands and feet, these zones can be reached.
The body’s zones and their corresponding points on the feet according to The Zone theory
What are the health benefits of reflexology?
Reflexology can improve your health in several ways. Even though some of the benefits of reflexology have not been replicated in scientific studies, many lives have been transformed by the treatment. Some of the evidence based benefits of reflexology include;
- Anxiety relief; this is one of the best-proven benefits of reflexology. Several studies have demonstrated the positive effect of reflexology on anxiety in people such as women in labor, people with a terminal illness, and women with Premenstrual stress.
- Pain relief; reflexology is an effective treatment for pain and has been used to compliment other modalities for various musculoskeletal issues during pregnancy, chemotherapy treatment, back pain and much more.
- Improved sense of well-being and mood enhancement; even if you do not suffer from a particular condition, reflexology can still help you boost your general sense of wellness. Whether it is through a placebo effect or the treatment contributing to improved mental health, many people have reported a boost in quality of life after receiving a number of sessions of reflexology.
While studies have managed to prove the above conditions, people have seen other benefits from undergoing reflexology. These benefits include improved digestion, reduced premenstrual stress symptoms, increased energy, migraine relief, improved respiratory function, and faster healing or relief from conditions like arthritis and back problems.
What conditions can benefit from reflexology?
Reflexology has been used to aid the treatment of several conditions. Reflexology on its own is not certified for the treatment of any disease. However, when used in combination with other forms of treatment, reflexology acts as a great aid to the healing process. Some of the conditions that can benefit from reflexology include;
- Chronic or acute pain
- Respiratory conditions and infections like asthma and blocked sinuses
- Digestive problems
- Joint issues such as arthritis
What happens during a reflexology appointment?
The exact process of a reflexology appointment may differ from practitioner to practitioner. However, your appointment will generally go as follows;
If it is your first session, the reflexology appointment will usually start with an assessment. Here, the practitioner asks you about your health and medical history. The practitioner may ask you if you have any chronic conditions, infections, or illnesses in general. He/she should then be able to tell you if it is safe for you to undergo reflexology or not.
Other things your practitioner may need to know include;
- Why you want to have reflexology
- Your history with reflexology
The practitioner should also give you more information on how the session will be conducted. Feel free to ask as many questions as you need to. This will help reassure you during the reflexology session. It is very important for you to feel relaxed when reflexology is being delivered.
The reflexology session
The practitioner will decide what points are best to apply pressure to; hands, feet, ears, or all.
Your position during the session will be determined by what points are going to be worked on. However, you will likely lie down to help you feel more relaxed. Since reflexology is done on the hands, feet, and ears, you will not have to take off your clothing as you would for a full body massage.
Depending on the condition you are addressing, the reflexologist will start to apply compression to certain areas on the feet, hands, or ears. If for example, you have digestive issues, he/she will focus on the central part of the foot (see image 1). However, they may still work on other parts of the foot.
A reflexology session will take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 and a half hours. If you need to sleep during the session, go for it. You will still receive all the health benefits of reflexology in full.
After the session
Every reflexologist has a unique way of ending their sessions. Most will try to calm you down and bring you back to full awareness. It is recommended to move as calmly and slowly as possible after the session. A glass of water is also highly recommended to help you feel refreshed. Since reflexology is described to help to flush out waste and toxins, drinking water will also help make this process more efficient.
How should you feel after a reflexology session?
Since all bodies are different, the reactions to a reflexology treatment differ from person to person. However, generally, one should feel much better after their session. If you feel any negative effects of the treatment, speak to your practitioner immediately. If the signs or symptoms persist, pause the treatment until you understand what the root cause might be.
Otherwise, some of the positive reactions you should experience after a reflexology session include;
- Better sleep
- Increased energy
- Pain relief
- Better respiratory function
- Improved digestion
- Improved flexibility especially in the joints
Is reflexology safe? Who shouldn’t get reflexology?
Reflexology is generally safe to try. It is especially safe if performed by a qualified practitioner such as a chiropractor or certified reflexologist. However, there are certain conditions under which reflexology is contraindicated. These include;
- Vascular diseases like deep vein thrombosis and thrombophlebitis
- Excessive inflammation
- Wounds or bruises on the hands or feet
- Foot ulcers
- Foot or hand infections like fungal infections
- Issues with the nervous system such as after a stroke
There are also conditions under which reflexology must be performed with extreme precaution. Under these conditions, the treatment must also strictly be performed by a qualified professional. Such conditions include;
- Pregnancy; There is no evidence to suggest it, however it is said in many manual therapy circle that certain compressions may induce labour if pregnant.
- Blood-thinning (anticoagulant) medication such as aspirin and warfarin
- Cancer and other chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes
Where should I get my reflexology treatment done?
There are organizations that have qualified practitioners (such as Rub Massage). Other professionals that perform reflexology include chiropractors, massage therapists, and physical therapists.
Remember, just like any treatment, the effects of reflexology are cumulative. It’s recommended to receive multiple sessions to fully experience the benefits of the treatment. If you do not feel any change after your first session, do not give up just yet. Continue with it for at least three sessions.
In conclusion, even though reflexology is not prescribed for the treatment of any disease, it can be used in combination with other treatments for certain conditions. It provides tremendous benefits to both sick and healthy individuals.
If you have any condition or disease, chronic or otherwise, consult your doctor before receiving any form of reflexology treatment.