10 Health Benefits of Foot Reflexology

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Foot Reflexology
In this article:
What Is Foot Reflexology ?
How Does Foot Reflexology Work?
Health Benefits of a Foot Reflexology Massage
Foot Reflexology Precautions
What Else Should You Know About Foot Reflexology?

What Is Foot Reflexology ?

Foot reflexology is an alternative therapy that enhances the distinctive healing mechanisms of the body. It involves pressure to specific reflex points on the feet using certain hand, finger, or thumb techniques. Reflexology is based on the premise that internal organs, bones, and body systems can be positively influenced from properly applying pressure to the points on the feet, ears, or hands.

Reflexology shows that there is much more to that good old-fashioned foot rub you give your spouse on their birthday. In fact, the art of foot reflexology massage is an ancient practice that dates back to Egypt and China over 5,000 years ago. A pictograph on the Egyptian tomb of Ankhmahor is thought to be one of the first recordings of the foot reflexology points.

In 1913, William H. Fitzgerald introduced reflexology to the U.S. Since that time, reflexology has become a popular form of alternative therapy around the world.

Nowadays, reflexology is common practice. I wouldn’t be surprised if your massage therapist uses the therapeutic pressure technique during your next massage session. Many massage therapists are also trained to perform reflexology.

How Does Foot Reflexology Work?

What is foot reflexology and how does it work? Reflexology works to restore the body’s health. According to reflexology, there are different reflex zones throughout the body. In total there are 10 zones on the body; five on the front and five on the back. Points on the bottom of the feet represent each zone. For instance, foot reflexology points on your toes are representative of the brain.

The foot reflexology chart, or map of reflex points, will help represent how certain body parts correspond to others. Each foot represents one half of the body. For example, the liver is on the right side of the body, and therefore the right foot is the corresponding reflex area. A reflexology appointment may include a general, integrated session, or it may focus on certain trouble areas at the ears, hands, and feet. When someone just wants to relax, they may want to just focus on the ears.

Reflexology works to help release stress. As a result, the body will heal and regenerate itself. Throughout the years, certain theories have helped explain reflexology:

  • Reflexology works on the central nervous system: This theory is based on research that explains the neurological relationship between internal organs and the skin, and that the entire nervous system adjusts when stimulated. When pressure is made to the ears, hands, and feet, a calming message is sent to the central nervous system. As a result, overall relaxation helps the organs function at their best.
  • The neuromatrix theory of pain: This theory suggests that pain is simply subjective. In other words, the brain responds to the sensory experience of pain, but it can also work in response to cognitive or emotional factors. As a result, reflexology may decrease pain by improving mood and reducing stress.
  • Theory of vital energy: When stress is not addressed, there is energy congestion, and inefficiencies in the body will lead to illnesses. Reflexology will allow energy to flow freely.

Health Benefits of a Foot Reflexology Massage

Reflexology is not a diagnostic or curative procedure. Instead, it is used to complement a variety of health conditions. After one or two foot reflexology sessions you will begin to notice results. That being said, one session per week for four to five straight weeks is the general recommendation. At the end of the sessions the reflexologist will assess the client’s improvement. Reflexology is a lot more than a foot massage. Besides relaxation, there are a number of health benefits of a foot reflexology massage:

1. Cancer: There are a number of studies that show how reflexology can help reduce cancer treatment symptoms, including nausea, pain, constipation or diarrhea. In a study published in the journal Nursing Standard in 2000, researchers found that reflexology can benefit patients during the palliative care stage of cancer. Also, a study published in the Oncology Nursing Forum in 2000 found that reflexology could significantly reduce anxiety in breast and lung cancer patients.

2. Arthritis: Foot reflexology benefits have also been used for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. In the U.S., osteoarthritis affects over 50 million people, and it is more common than rheumatoid arthritis. Several studies suggest that reflexology can reduce the pain associated with arthritis. In a study published in the Journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in 2013, researchers from the University of Portsmouth found that reflexology may be as effective as painkillers for osteoarthritis. The patients had felt approximately 40% less pain.

3. Hypertension: Reflexology has been found to reduce hypertension—a common risk of heart disease. In a Korean study from 2004, researchers found that a foot reflexology massage could effectively reduce systolic blood pressure. For the study, 34 participants were either assigned to the reflexology group or the control group. Reflexology was performed twice weekly for a six-week period.

4. Type 2 diabetes: Diabetes is a serious health issue that produces high blood sugar levels. In a recent systematic review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers concluded that self-administered foot reflexology might have a positive effect in type 2 diabetics.

5. Migraine and tension headaches: Foot reflexology massage can also effectively reduce tension and migraine headaches. A blind, randomized trial from 2000 found that a foot reflexology massage was as effective as a drug called flunarizine, which is used to prevent migraine headaches. The study examined 32 headache patients after a foot reflexology massage session, and again after a three-month follow-up.

6. Anxiety and depression: Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems. The relaxation benefits of reflexology tend to extend beyond massages. For example, a 2002 study published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics found that a foot massage and reflexology could decrease depression and anxiety in postmenopausal women.

7. Multiple sclerosis: Multiple sclerosis is a progressive and chronic degenerative disease of the central nervous system. A small study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research in the spring of 2015 found that reflexology decreases fatigue in women with multiple sclerosis. Other evidence suggests that reflexology may reduce the tingling associated with multiple sclerosis.

8. Sinusitis: Sinusitis is a chronic or acute condition often caused by another respiratory infection like the flu, a cold, or bronchitis. In a randomized, controlled study presented at the 2002 American Academy of Otolaryngology, researchers found that reflexology and nasal irrigation procedures improved chronic sinusitis in 150 patients.

9. Circulation: Foot reflexology massage is also known to improve blood circulation in the feet and throughout the body. Gently stroking the feet, fingers, and hands will significantly improve blood flow to the vital organs. Blood will deliver nutrients and oxygen to your organs, thereby nourishing your body tissues. A foot reflexology massage before bed can improve circulation in the lower extremities.

10. Eliminates toxins: Toxins are everywhere these days from processed foods to cosmetics. That is why it is important to have a healthy urinary system. Reflexology has effectively reduced urinary tract issues and improved bladder function. Basically, reflexology can efficiently eliminate toxins from the body and protect the body from various conditions that result from an impaired urinary system.

Foot reflexology massage can also help treat symptoms of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), kidney stones, constipation, backaches and restless leg syndrome. The therapy can also improve memory, manage diabetic neuropathy and ease symptoms of menopause and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Foot Reflexology Precautions

Although reflexology is very effective, there are reflexology precautions to consider. People with certain health conditions such as varicose veins, ingrown toenails, extreme edema, bruises, cuts, foot fractures, athlete’s foot, and infections or sores should avoid foot reflexology massages. The reflexologist will likely ask you about your current health problems before you schedule an appointment.

What Else Should You Know About Foot Reflexology?

What else should you know about foot reflexology massages, especially if you are new to the practice? On average, a foot reflexology massage will cost about $30 for a one hour session. There are also certain principles associated with reflexology:

  • A reflexologist does not heal the client; however, they help the body repair itself.
  • Reflexology recognizes all aspects of a person’s wellbeing, including the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual parts of health.
  • The reflexologist and client may feel the energy from the ears, hands, or feet move throughout the body.
  • Aromatherapy with essential oils may also complement a foot reflexology massage session.

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Sources for Today’s Article:
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Park, H.S., et al., “[Effects of foot reflexology on essential hypertension patients],” Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi, 2004; 34(5): 739-750.
Song, H.J., et al., “Self-administered foot reflexology for the management of chronic health conditions: a systematic review,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2015; 21(2): 69-76, doi: 10.1089/acm.2014.0166.Epub, January 30, 2015.
“What Does the Research Say about Reflexology?” University of Minnesota web site; http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/reflexology/what-does-research-say-about-refloxology, last accessed December 4, 2015.
Nazari, F., et al., “Comparing the effects of reflexology and relaxation on fatigue in women with multiple sclerosis,” Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery, 2015; 20(2): 200-204.
Yadev, V., et al., “Summary of evidence-based guideline: complementary and alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis: report of the guideline development subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology,” Neurology, 2014; 82(12): 1083-1092, doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000000250.
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“How Does Reflexology Work?” University of Minnesota web site; http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/reflexology/how-does-reflexology-work, last accessed December 4, 2015.
“What is reflexology?” University of Minnesota web site; http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/reflexology, last accessed December 4, 2015.