The Basics and History of Reflexology
Reflexology is a part of the philosophy of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The technique focuses on pressure points in the body. It may be a helpful adjunct to traditional therapies in resolving patient complaints. Also called “zone therapy”, this practice uses pressure that is applied to the ears, hands, and feet. It is not massage, as it does not use oils or lotions.
It is meant to trigger certain systems of the body. Practitioners of the technique believe there are various points on the hands and feet that 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 be what is preventing patients from being able to heal themselves. Another belief is that foot manipulations can reduce stress and pain. It is possible for one to adjust the pain signals from the feet so that the brain can be release chemicals like endorphins.
Reflexology, like many natural and alternative treatments, is an ancient medicine. It may have been used as early as over 2000 years BC. The United States started using this ancient practice in the early 1900s. This was 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. 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 physically different point can affect the functioning of the aforementioned organ.2 Detailed reflexology maps are available from a variety of sources online.3 Although there is no 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”, and “100 hours of hands-on work with a qualified supervisor.” This includes exams, and some research and training. North Dakota and Tennessee are the only two states that provide license to 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
Areas of Specialization
Some reflexologists treat professional 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 the practice as a complementary medicine to treat conditions such as asthma, cancer, anxiety, cardiovascular problems, kidney issues, and diabetes.
It is not massage.
What makes the two different from each other 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”. These are mainly in the feet, hands, and ears, by using “micro movement techniques”. They do not work from the “outside in”, as massage therapists do. They work from the “inside out”, releasing tension via nervous system stimulation.8
Reflexology At Home
Some chiropractors may assist patients with learning reflexology techniques to use at home. Chiropractors may focus on head and neck pain methods, for example. Chiropractors who have trained in reflexology may attempt to use the technique to treat corresponding areas in addition to traditional chiropractic adjustments. Practitioners can help clients manipulate pressure points in a safe manner. If they so choose, patients might also ask someone who is close to them perform the reflexology.9 While many practitioners and patients at home use their hands to perform the technique, they can also use a tennis ball for the foot.
Tennis Ball Reflexology
The patient might start with the tennis ball placed underneath one of the heels before rolling the ball forward and back. All of this taking place under one foot. The patient can also make circles with the ball on the floor. When doing this, they massage between the toes, focus on the center of the foot, or follow any other patterns.
Any pain and tightness in the foot, such as from plantar fasciitis or after a long walk, should begin to relax. The technique provides relief not only to the foot but is thought to affect the other, connected areas of the body as well. The same motions and techniques you use in this tennis ball reflexology should be used for both feet. Apply pressure, but do not push to the point where the patient experiences too much discomfort. One can perform tennis ball reflexology while standing or sitting, watching TV, working at the computer, on an airplane, at work, or in any other stationary positions.
At-home reflexology is a form of maintenance that may take place in between visits to the professional.10