Reflexology is an alternative medicine that focuses on pressure points in the body. It may be a helpful adjunct to traditional therapies in resolving patient complaints.
The Basics and History of Reflexology
Reflexology, also called “zone therapy”, utilizes pressure that is applied to the ears, hands, and feet. It is not massage, as it doesn’t use oils or lotions. It is meant to trigger certain systems of the body. There are various points on the hands and feet that are said to coordinate with particular organs or body systems. The feet are the primary area of focus. It is thought that life force (“Qi” or energy field) might be blocked, and that may prevent patients from being able to heal themselves. Another belief is that stress and pain can be reduced by foot manipulations. It is possible that pain signals from the feet can be adjusted so that chemicals in the brain (endorphins) can be released. Reflexology is an ancient medicine. It may have been used as early as over 2000 years BCE. The United States started using reflexology in the early 1900s, when Dr. William H. Fitzgerald introduced it for its anesthetic effect. Eunice D. Ingham, a nurse physiotherapist, renamed the practice from zone therapy to reflexology, and she “mapped the entire body into reflexes”.1 One example would be that the arch of the foot is thought to correspond to the bladder. Applying pressure to such a point can affect the functioning of that organ.2 Detailed maps are available online.3 Although there is not universal agreement among reflexologists on all points, there is general agreement on “major reflex points”.4
Not all countries regulate or license reflexologists. There are some places that provide certification. The American Reflexology Certification Board “requires 110 hours of instruction”, as well as “100 hours of hands-on work with a qualified supervisor”, with exams, and some research and training. Only 2 states (North Dakota and Tennessee) license reflexologists.5 The Reflexology Association of America is a professional organization for practitioners. They hold events and compile information on laws, standards, schools, research, and professionals.6 Some reflexologists treat athletes and other performers, as well as people ranging in age from childhood to the elderly. Others treat specific conditions, such as lymphatic imbalances, musculo-skeletal pain, reproductive issues, sinus pressure and allergies, headaches, and arthritis.7 Some practitioners use reflexology as a complementary medicine to treat conditions such as asthma, cancer, anxiety, cardiovascular problems, kidney issues, and diabetes. Reflexology is not massage. What makes it different is that massage manipulates soft tissue with kneading, stroking, friction, or tapping to relax the muscles. Reflexology, by contrast, focuses on the “reflex maps of points and areas of the body”, mainly in the feet, hands, and ears, by using “micro movement techniques”. They don’t work from the “outside in”, as massage therapists do. They work from the “inside out”, releasing tension via nervous system stimulation.8 Some chiropractors may assist patients with learning reflexology techniques to use at home. Chiropractors may focus on head and neck pain methods, for example. Practitioners can help clients manipulate pressure points in a safe manner.9