This ancient therapy has also become very popular in modern times.  The technique activates and facilitates the body's own natural healing powers.  Reflexology is accomplished by applying non-invasive but penetrating pressure to specific reflex points and areas on the feet, hands and ears.

Reflexology is typically focused on the feet because of the accessibility and also the larger size of the reflex points.  Therapists feel the feet are very sensitive and have a physical and energetic connection to the earth.

This therapy has been shown to be most effective in stimulating and balancing the flow of energy to specific organs, glands and other systems of the body that have a direct correlation to these reflex points.  The body can then utilize this energy to maintain optimal function or to begin healing.

History of Reflexology

That history of this ancient therapy goes to many cultures, including those of Asia, China, Egypt, Greece, Japan and Native North Americans.  The rediscovery and subsequent promotion of reflexology in the West is usually attributed to American masseuese Eunice Ingham, who structured her own "pressure technique" for the feet after many years of working with patients who came to see her for various complaints and illnesses.  She refined her theories by working with her patients and seeing their progress firsthand.

How Reflexology Works

Working through the nervous system, the circulatory system and the correspondence of subtle energy currents, reflexology works on the principle of zone therapy.  The body is divided into 10 vertical zones run the length of the body from head to foot.  The 10 zones that can be found in each foot contain the reflex points that are worked upon in each therapy session. 

The theory rests on the premise that the entire body is superimposed upon a zone grid on the feet, hands and ears.  By therapeutically working a reflex point on the foot, stimulation is created for all the body parts relating to that zone.  A practitioner can release blocked energy in any part of the body by applying systematic pressure to the corresponding point on the feet.

Not unlike acupuncture, reflexology is still not completely understood.  With more than 7,200 nerves, the feet are extremely sensitive.  There is no doubt this stimulation partially accounts for the beneficial results.  However, there are less discernible energy currents and relationships in the body that contribute to the healing power of this technique. 

The skill of practitioner and his or her awareness, personal sensitivity, empathy, intention and integrity also adds to the effectiveness of this therapy.

Conditions Benefited by Reflexology

Reflexology has been shown to sometimes reduce and alleviate the effects of stress, the underlying cause of many ailments.  This therapy provides a natural way of promoting balance within and between all the systems of the body by focusing on all the organs, glands and body parts. 

In addition, benefits include a deep feeling of roundedness.  It also aids in detoxification by breaking up crystallized deposits of uric acid that lodge in the feet. 

This therapy contributes to relief from nervous disorders, intestinal disorders, digestive problems, poor circulation, glandular disorders, fatigue, headaches, back spasms, infertility disorders, eye problems, sinusitis, emotional grief and shock, infertility, and a wide variety of sports injuries. 

For extreme chronic conditions, reflexology should be used in conjunction with other therapies and under the supervision of a trained health care practitioner.

Choosing a Therapist

It is very important to select a fully-qualified and reputable therapist.  Contact a national reflexology organization to ensure the therapist is well-trained and qualified to proceed with the desired therapy.

At the first session, the reflexologist takes detailed notes of the patient's medical history and inquires about the symptoms of current health problems.  Diet and lifestyle will also be discussed.

The feet will probably be washed and dried and then the patient sits in a reclining chair, on a massage couch or in an ordinary chair with a foot rest.  The legs are raised and the practitioner carefully examines the feet, looking for signs of infection, hard skin, swelling, the state of the nails, etc. 

Talcum powder is applied to the feet before massage.  The thumb is typically used on a particular pressure point with a slight circular movement.

The reflexologist will then move forward from one reflex point in the foot to another with a forward, creeping movement.  While the reflexes are mostly found on the soles of the feet, there are also points on the top and sides.  By working on the reflexes in the feet, the circulation of blood to the corresponding part of the body is improved and a reduction of nervous tension in that area occurs.

A treatment session usually last for about three-quarters of an hour and the patient is recommended to have at least six to eight treatments.  Some people find an improvement after the first session.  If no positive changes are seen after three treatments, reflexology may not be the proper treatment for that particular person.

Dangers and Limitations

As with other types of therapeutic bodywork, genetic factors, personal health habits, emotional and mental attitudes and amount of physical activity all play a part in a person's health and well-being. 

Reflexology is not recommended for those suffering from the following conditions:

  • Hemorrhage

  • Intense pain

  • Breaks in the skin

  • Severe swelling

  • Burns

  • Chronic inflammation

  • Varicose veins

  • Severe sprains

  • Hematomas

  • Recent surgery (in some cases)


  1. Bratman, S. (1998). The Alternative Medicine Ratings Guide: an expert panel rates the best treatments for over 80 conditions. New York: Crown Publishing Group
  2. Brown, L. (1999). Alternative Medicine. London : Teach Yourself
  3. Deepak Chopra, M.D. (2002). Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Puyallup, Wash. : Future Medicine Pub.
  4. Gillanders, A. (2005). Reflexology : simple routines for home, work, & travel. London : Gaia
  5. Kunz, B. & Kunz, K. (2003). Reflexology : health at your fingertips. London : Dorling Kindersley

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