Reflexology is a system of massage used to relive tension and treat illness, based on the theory that there are reflex points on the feet, hands, and head linked to every part of the body.
Is the foot a microcosm of the entire body? Reflexologists say it is true-and press on various 'reflex points' along the foot to relive symptoms elsewhere in the body. Although they do not promise to cure the underlying cause, they do believe that their technique can alleviate a wide variety of stress-related problems, as well as headache (both tension and migraine), premenstrual syndrome, asthma, digestive disorders, skin conditions such as acne and eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis and sciatica. Reflexology is also sometimes used for neurological symptoms, such as those seen in multiple sclerosis. Although a number of small research studies seems to show that reflexology can help with problems such as headache and bladder control, there have been no major clinical trials to verify its theoretical underpinnings. It is recommended, even by its advocates, only as an adjunct to conventional therapy.
Procedure of Treatment
Unlike massage, which involves a generalized rubbing motion, reflexologists use their hands to apply pressure to specific points on your foot. Typically, you remain fully clothed, sitting with your legs raised or lying on a treatment table. The reflexologists may powder your foot or use lotion to make manipulating it easier. After gently massaging your foot, the reflexologist will begin applying pressure to the reflex points thought to correspond to your health problems. He will treat first one foot, and then the other; some believe it is more effective to start with the left foot. No instruments are required, but some practitioners use devices such as rubber balls to apply some of the pressure. If you have foot problems, such as severe calluses or corns, the therapist may refer you to a podiatrist for treatment. Although most reflexologists work only with the feet (a few work with the hands), they do not treat foot disorders. You can learn to do reflexology for yourself, as well, by having your practitioner demonstrate the techniques appropriate for your problem.
Treatment Time: Sessions typically last from 30 to 60 minutes.
Treatment Frequency: Treatments are usually given once a week, at least initially. After the first few weeks, they may be scheduled less frequently.
You are likely to see a chart in the reflexologist's office showing the parts of the body that correspond to the various zones of the foot. Reflexology teaches that the toes correspond to the head and neck, the ball of the foot to the chest and lungs, the arch to the internal organs, the heel to the sciatic nerve and the pelvic area, and the bone along the curving arch of the foot to the spine. The right side of the body is reflected in the right foot, the left side in the left foot. The idea that manipulating the feet can improve health is far from new. Ancient pictographs show Egyptians massaging their feet, while old texts and illustrations show that the Chinese, Japanese and Indians all worked on their feet to combat illness. However, the current scheme linking various parts of the foot with specific parts of the body got its start in the early 1900s, when Dr. William H. Fitzgerald developed a system he called 'zone therapy'. In the 1930s, Eunice Ingham, a nurse and physiotherapist who used zone therapy, refined the system, identifying especially sensitive areas she called 'reflex points' and creating a map of the body as represented on the feet. The original zone therapy was used only for pain, but Ingham found that alternating pressure on several points could achieve other therapeutic effects as well. In 1938, she published a book describing her theories. Ingham's nephew, Dwight Byers, continued her work, and is now considered the leading authority in the field. In its early years, reflexology was thought to work in much the same way as traditional Chinese acupuncture. Practitioners maintained that a life force, or vital energy, flows along channels from the feet to all the organs of the body, and that any blockage in the flow will eventually lead to disease. Stimulation of reflex points in the foot could, they believed, break up blockages in the flow further along the channel. Today, many reflexologists have come up with other explanations for the therapy's effect. Some say that manipulation of the feet reduces the amount of lactic acid in the tissues while releasing tiny calcium crystals, accumulated in the nerve endings of the feet, that hold back the free flow of energy to corresponding organs. Others speculate that pressure on the reflex points may trigger the release of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that naturally block pain. Some practitioners ascribe the therapy's benefits to a relaxation response that opens the blood vessels and improves circulation. Others credit a detoxifying effect, suggesting that manipulation dissolves crystals of uric acid that settle in the feet. While none of thee explanations-from the life force to the release of endorphins-has been scientifically verified, reflexology appears to produce satisfactory results for a surprising number of people. It is accepted around the globe, with more than 25,000 practitioners worldwide.
Who Should Avoid This Therapy?
As an adjunct to other forms of treatment, reflexology is generally considered quite safe. However, if you have a foot injury or clots, thrombosis, phlebitis, ulcers, or any other vascular problems in your legs, you should discuss reflexology with your doctor first. Be sure to let the reflexologist know if you have a pacemaker, gallstones or kidney stones, since he will need to avoid stimulating certain points in the feet. And if you are pregnant, make a point of discussing the treatments with both your obstetrician and the reflexologist, since some evidence suggests that vigorous stimulation of the feet may induce uterine contractions.
There are no known side-effects.