Reflexology is a therapeutic massage that uses pressure points on the feet, hands and ears to stimulate the body’s natural healing process. Its origins can be traced all the way to ancient Egypt where archaeologists found paintings of people receiving treatments on their feet. Further discoveries in China, Japan, India and Greece suggest that the reflexology as we know it today evolved from these traditional therapies.
What is reflexology?
The underlying principle behind reflexology is the idea that the feet and the hands are energetically connected to other parts of the body. Applying pressure to reflex points stimulates the body to begin the healing by improving circulation, reducing stress and boosting energy.
Practitioners use foot maps to guide their work. For example, toes and the area around them correspond to the head, brain and sinuses. The ball of the foot is connected to the heart and lung area, and the kidneys are connected to the arch of the foot.
How does reflexology work?
Reflexologists combine ancient knowledge from China and India with modern neuroanatomy, and there are a few different theories that try to explain how exactly reflexology affects the body.
- The theory from traditional Chinese medicine is based on the principle of “vital force” or qi, which flows through our bodies. Qi consists of two opposing and complementary forces called yin and yang. These are constantly flowing and changing in the body. When yin and yang are in imbalance, it can cause pain and illness.Qi flows through the meridians or pathways in our body, which can be accessed through specific points. By applying pressure to those points on the feet, hands or ear, reflexologists aim to keep the energy flowing.
- Our palms and feet are areas dense with nerve endings, with 7000 nerve endings in each foot and a total of 17000 on our palms, making them highly receptive to touch. After finding a neurological connection between skin and internal organs, British scientists introduced nerve theory, furthermore suggesting that reflexology works through the nervous system. Outside factors like touch stimulate the nervous system, which in turn sends the message to the body to adjust the tension levels. When relaxed, the body can move naturally toward the more optimal state.
- Introduced in the early 1900s, zone theory is based on a similar principle as the Chinese meridian theory. It is the origin or modern reflexology and was introduced by Dr William Fitzgerald, often referred to as the “father of reflexology”.According to zone therapy, the body is divided into 10 vertical zones that can be connected to the corresponding lines on the hands and the feet. Five lines for each finger and toe on one side affect the respective part of the body. Zone therapy was further developed by adding horizontal lines to the zones of the feet and hands, creating a map that follows the anatomy of the body.
How is reflexology different from acupressure or massage?
However, reflexology is based only on reflex points on the feet, hands and ears. Some reflexologists may use the same principles on the face as well. Massage, on the other hand, works with soft tissue across the whole body, using hands and elbows for larger movements.
What are the benefits of reflexology?
As a holistic practice, reflexology offers many health benefits, although it is advised to use it as a complementary therapy. Some of the benefits include:
Reflexology calms the body by sending signals to the nervous system to relieve tension. It calms the body and, as a result, can aid with sleep problems and other stress-related issues.
Increased blood circulation
One of the greatest benefits of reflexology is an improvement in blood circulation. Oxygen and necessary nutrients can circulate faster, reaching the vital organs more efficiently. By improving blood circulation, reflexology can help you improve bladder functioning and eliminate toxins in the body
Evidence has shown that incorporating reflexology into medical treatment can relieve pain caused by premenstrual syndrome, symptoms of multiple sclerosis, migraines and back pain. Reflexology is also one of the most popular complementary therapies for people with cancer. It helps reduce emotional and physiological pain, while at the same time increasing general health.
In a study from 2014, researchers looked at the effects of reflexology treatment on people undergoing heart surgery. Results showed a significant decrease in anxiety and suggested the use of reflexology as a therapy technique for anxiety relief.
Who is it suitable for?
Reflexology is a non-invasive and gentle treatment suitable for most people, with no risk or negative health effects. It is, however, not recommended for people with foot injuries and pregnant women because of reports suggesting it may stimulate contractions.
If you have blood clotting issues, reflexology could potentially cause the clot to move towards the heart and the brain. If you have any health issues it is always advised to consult with your doctor before booking an appointment.
You should let your reflexologist know if you have diabetes, epilepsy or circulatory problems.
What to expect from a reflexology session?
Before the first session, a reflexologist will ask you about your health history to check if the therapy is suitable for you and explain how reflexology works and what to expect from the treatment. The practitioner may work on the feet, hands and ears during one session or choose to focus only on one, depending on the specific issue.
During sessions, you remain fully clothed, except for the shoes and socks. The treatment will most likely be in a comfortable sitting or lying position, although there is a type of reflexology where you will be in a vertical position. In vertical reflexology, practitioners apply pressure on the weight-bearing feet or hands. The effectiveness of this method is based on the idea that feet and hands in this position are more sensitized and can send stronger impulses to the body.
The reflexologist will warm up the feet and hands and start applying pressure with their fingers using different techniques. Lotion, oil and instruments like bowls and brushes may be used.
Most people feel relaxed during and after the session. In case you feel any pain or discomfort, make sure to tell your therapist. It is possible to feel soreness, nausea, sleepiness and mood swings after a session.
How to find a reflexologist?
The Association of Reflexologists (AOR) provides a list of trained reflexologists in the UK. From spring 2021 you can find reflexologists in your area by visiting our website. Search and book your next treatment directly through our online marketplace.