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Reflexology (zone therapy) is an alternative medicine, complementary, or integrated medicine method of treatment involving the physical act of applying pressure to the feet and hands with specific thumb, finger and hand techniques. It is based on a system of zones and reflex areas that reflect an image of the body on the feet, with the premise that such work effects a physical change to the body. The Reflexology Association of Canada defines reflexology as:

"A natural healing art based on the principle that there are reflexes in the feet, hands and ears and their referral areas within zone related areas, which correspond to every part, gland and organ of the body. Through application of pressure on these reflexes without the use of tools, crèmes or lotions, the feet being the primary area of application, reflexology relieves tension, improves circulation and helps promote the natural function of the related areas of the body."

What is a reflexology chart?

A reflexology chart mirrors a reflection of the body on the feet and hands, left foot or hand representing the body's left half and right foot or hand its right half. In reflexology practice, technique is applied to the relevant reflex area(s) to prompt a change in the related part of the body.

reflexology chart

What is the history of reflexology?

history of reflexology

Around the world and throughout history, reflexology has been rediscovered time and time again. Archeological evidence points to ancient reflexology medical practices in Egypt (2330 BCE), China (2704 BCE) and Japan (690 CE).

In the West, the concept of reflexology began to emerge in the 19th century with European and Russian research into the nervous system and reflex- think Pavlov. Reflex therapies were created as medical practices but were soon eclipsed by use of surgery and drugs. The ideas of reflex use for health improvement were carried on sporadically and brought to American in 1909 by Dr. William Fitzgerald, an eye-ear and nose specialist from Connecticut. Physiotherapist Eunice Ingham is credited with developing a system of reflex areas by 1938.

In the East, ancient Chinese techniques were re-discovered in the 1980Õs and have spread throughout Asia creating today's reflexology-rich environment with reflexology paths in parks and a thriving reflexology industry of practitioners, businesses and research.

What are the benefits of reflexology?

Research has shown the specific techniques of reflexology to be effective and beneficial in many ways. A survey of 170 reflexology studies from 21 countries shows that reflexology is effective, impacting a variety of physical and psychological concerns. Reflexology:

  • Creates relaxation: From the moment the reflexologist's hands start their work, the relaxation begins as shown in research using EEG brain activity. All together, 24 studies demonstrate reflexology's relaxation effects.
  • Reduces pain: Pain reduction following reflexology is documented in 27 studies including research showing impact on individuals of all ages and health states
  • Improves blood flow: Separate studies show that reflexology work increases blood flow to the feet, brain, kidneys and intestines.
  • Aids post-operative recovery: Reflexology work aids recovery after surgery as shown by several studies, reducing pain and lessening the use of post operative analgesics.
  • Impact on physiological measures (e. g. blood pressure and cholesterol; measurements by ECG, EEG, and fMRI)
  • Enhances medical care: Reflexology helps where nothing else can for many: phantom limb pain sufferers, neuropathy patients, and hemodialysis patients to name a few.
  • Benefits mental health: Research demonstrates that reflexology can reduce depression (11 studies) and anxiety (9 studies).
  • Complements cancer care: Pain, nausea, vomiting, and/or anxiety eased for chemotherapy patients following reflexology work as shown by16 studies fom 7 countries.
  • Eases pregnancy, delivery and post-partum effects: Women who received reflexology experienced shorter labor times and used less analgesia. In addition, reflexology showed a positive impact on postpartum depression, anxiety, urination and bowel movements.

In general terms, the benefits of reflexology have to do with the reduction of stress. Because the feet and hands help set the tension level for the rest of the body, they are an easy way to interrupt the stress signal and reset homeostasis, the body's equilibrium.

Reflexology is a complement to standard medical care. It should not be construed as medical advice. It should not be a replacement to medical help.

Stress and Anxiety

Lessening of stress and anxiety is demonstrated in twenty-nine reflexology studies with study participants including healthy individuals, senior citizens, women and cancer patients. The stimulation of reflexology's pressure techniques creates change in the body's basic level of tension as demonstrated by research showing that reflexology relaxes the body using a variety of measurements: brain waves (EEG), blood pressure, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, pulse rate, and anxiety.

Lessening of Pain

Reduction of pain is a significant result of reflexology work. The lessening of pain in response to reflexology is documented in thirty-six studies including individuals of all ages and health states: birthing mothers, menstruating women, phantom limb pain sufferers, lower back pain sufferers, cancer patients, kidney stone patients, senior citizens and individuals with pain resulting from surgery. Such results find explanation is what researcher Dr. Nancy Stephenson considers as affect on the neuromatirx of the brain, an expansion of the Fate Control Theory of Pain. According to Wikipedia: "Gate control theory asserts that activation of nerves which do not transmit pain signals, called nonnociceptive fibers, can interfere with signals from pain fibers, thereby inhibiting pain." Stimulating nerves that sense touch, heat, cold and pressure- as does reflexology- overcomes the action of the pain nerves.

Cancer Care

Twenty-four studies conducted by nurses in ten countries show that reflexology helps with each stage of the cancer experience: following chemotherapy, post operatively, management of symptoms and during palliative/hospice care. Research demonstrates that cancer patients who receive reflexology work show significant improvements in physical and emotional symptoms: lessened pain, anxiety, depression and stress; reduced nausea and vomiting; lowered fatigue and improved quality of life.

How does reflexology work?

Reflexology works as the pressure techniques applied to the feet or hands interact as a part of the body's nervous system creating: relaxation, improved circulation, exercise of the nervous system and the benefits of touch.Pressure sensors in the feet and hands are a part of the body's reflexive response that makes possible the "fight or flight" reaction to danger. Feet ready to flee and hands ready to fight communicate with the body"s internal organs-think adrenal glands and adrenal... to make possible either eventuality. The sudden adrenal surge that enables a person to lift a car is an example of this coordinated activity. The perception of pressure by the feet and hands taps into the reflex network that makes possible our every move. Reflexology, consistently applied, provides an exercise of these pressure sensors and thus a conditioning of the internal organs to which they are inextricably tied.

What should I expect from a reflexology session?

Reflexology sessions last from 30 minutes to an hour. The client lies down on a comfortable bed and their feet are elevated to a comfortable position for the client and reflexologist to work. Your feet will then be cleansed with warm towels. The reflexologist will use pressure, stretch and movement to work through the foot methodically.

You should feel relaxed at the end of a session. How long that relaxation lasts is a good indicator of the effectiveness of the session. Make note of this and tell your reflexologist your response to the session at the next session. This can be helpful information to the reflexologist.

The reflexologist's application of technique should be within your comfort zone- not too heavy and not too light, but at a level within your personal preference. Communicate this preference to the reflexologist.

Do not rely on a reflexologist for medical help. The reflexologist is limited to complementing medicine not replacing it.