Reflexology is an often misunderstood form of body work. Though much controversy exists as to whether or not reflexology is actually effective at treating any conditions, even as a complementary and alternative treatment, many believe that it can lead to greater relaxation and stress reduction.
What Is Reflexology?
Reflexology is a healing therapy based on the theory that there are specific areas in the feet, hands and ears that correspond to specific areas of the body. Reflexology has been around since antiquity, with evidence showing it to have been practiced in Egypt, China, Russia, Japan and India. The healing practice was limited to these countries until the availability of long distance travel. The practice was then spread to the rest of the world by those who had been helped by the practice. It was not called "reflexology" until Vladimir Bekterev coined the term in 1917.
Reflexology as it is known and practiced today was created in the United States in the early 20th century with the introduction of "zone" therapy, created by William H. Fitzgerald, M.D. Dr. Fitzgerald divided the body into 10 "zones". Maps were then created, linking these ones to pressure points in the hands, feet and ears. Reflexologists apply pressure to these various points to relieve pain or reduce stress in the corresponding area of the body. When pressure is applied, it signals the body to release endorphins, the body's natural pain relievers.
While reflexology is very similar to massage, there are some very distinct differences. The first is that massage uses the entire hand and sometimes the forearm and elbow, while reflexology only uses the thumb and index finger. Also massage focuses on the entire musculo-skeletal system, while reflexology focuses on the nerve endings found only in the hands, feet and ears.
Should It Be Used As A Form Of Treatment?
Though there is no scientific evidence that supports the use of reflexology to cure any disease. It is widely used to help provide pain relief and relaxation, although there are those that use it to help relieve a number of conditions and ailments.
Because reflexology is very similar to the acupressure and acupuncture techniques used in ancient Chinese medicine, some proponents believe that by applying pressure to the appropriate areas, good health can be maintained or restored, although the effectiveness of reflexology as a form of treatment is strictly anecdotal.
Benefits Of Reflexology
The main benefit of reflexology is relaxation. There is significant evidence that reflexology promotes relaxation and when the body is more relaxed it is better able to cope with the stresses of the surrounding environment.
According to one study published in the European Journal of Cancer, reflexology does have a significant effect on quality of life in those suffering from cancer. The study found that those that engaged in reflexology had an improved mood, less anxiety and an improved quality of life over those who did not. This is likely due to the relaxation effect of reflexology, which makes it a valuable tool in helping those who are seriously ill cope with their illness, though it won't actually cure the illness.
There are several techniques used in reflexology, but the common factor is that, unlike massage which uses the entire hand and sometimes the forearm, reflexology uses the thumb and forefinger to concentrate pressure at specific pressure points. There are several motions that can be used and the reflexologist will determine which strokes are appropriate.
There are dozens of pressure points in the feet, arms and ears. Typically points on the left foot correspond with the left side of the body and points on the right foot correspond with the right side of the body. These are just some of the pressure points used in reflexology;
- Tips of toes- Brain
- Upper inner side of the big toes - Temples
- Lower inner side of big toes- Side of the neck
- Outer edge of the foot (just below the little toe)- Arm and shoulder
- Center of the foot, top of the arch on the left foot- Liver
- Center of the foot, top of the arch on the right foot- Stomach
- Back of the calf- Sciatic nerve
- Tops of fingers (first joint)- Head, face and sinuses
- Middle of fingers (around second joint)- Neck
- Lower part of the fingers (near base of the finger)- Top of the shoulders
- Center of the back of the hand- Upper back
- Center of tip of thumb- Pituitary Gland
- Center of the palm (left hand)- Stomach
- Center of the palm (right hand)- Liver
- Bottom of earlobe- Lips, throat, and tonsils
- Center of earlobe- Eyes
- Upper outside edge of earlobe- Jaw
- Upper inside edge of earlobe- teeth
- Outer edge of the ear- Wrist, elbow and shoulder
Anyone who is familiar with acupressure or acupuncture points will notice that the reflexology points are different. However, like acupressure a person can administer the pressure to the desired points themselves whenever they need to.
Even though reflexology is regarded as a safe practice there are some safety guidelines to keep in mind.
- Be sure that the person practicing as a reflexologist is qualified. Many licensed massage therapists specialize in reflexology.
- Even though reflexology is safe, pregnant women need to be careful. There are certain pressure points that can cause contractions and these should be avoided unless mom is at or past her due date. Reflexology can be used in labor to help ease pain and aid in relaxation. Reflexology is safe for infants and small children, although it may be hard to get them to sit still.
- Reflexology should be avoided in people who have a history of blood clots, a skin infection such as athlete's foot, those with strained or recently broken bones in the feet or hands, or those with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis.
Reflexology is a perfectly safe way to relax and ease pain, and even though there is no evidence that reflexology cures any specific condition, it has been shown to improve quality of life when used with mainstream medical practices and the possible uses of reflexology should be explored further.