What is Reflexology?
Reflexology is a powerful healing practice based on the premise that your entire body is mirrored on the feet, hands and ears through a system of reflexes. Using special techniques, the reflexologist stimulates these reflexes prompting a healing response in every organ, gland and body system.
Reflexology had its first footprint on pictographs found on tombs in ancient Egypt. The practice of foot manipulation therapy and later referred to as ‘Pressure Therapy’ spread through ancient Asia and gradually moved West. Modern reflexology has been attributed to William Fitzgerald, M.D. and Joe Shelby Riley, M.D. in the 1920’s. It continued evolving and was greatly expanded by Eunice Ingham during the late ’30’s who has written several books and popularized mapping and therapeutic techniques still used widely in reflexology schools and among professional reflexologists.
Within the health field today, reflexology is increasingly being defined as ‘Complementary Alternative Medicine’ (CAM) as more traditional doctors find benefits – physical, mental and emotional – among a wide range of patients.
What conditions can it help?
The most common conditions that may be helped by reflexology are:
- Pain in any area of the body including back pain
- Plantar fasciitis
- Foot, ankle and leg problems including soreness, swelling, restless leg
- The effects of stress
- Nervous tension
- Digestive upset (constipation and/or diarrhea)
- Lack of circulation
- Toxins in the body
- Sinus pressure
- Allergy symptoms
- Immune system problems
- Hormonal imbalances
- Anxiety and Depression
- Stiff, aching and painful joints and muscles
- Headaches (including migraines)
- Inflammation related problems (including arthritis, asthma, diabetes, injuries, heart disease, cancer)
- Recovery following injury or surgery
How Does Reflexology Work?
(Note: Although reflexology is effective for work on the feet, hands and ears, for simplification, our emphasis is on the feet.)
The following are theories on how reflexology works. Some theories are from ‘Western’ medicine and some from ‘Eastern’ medicine. Western views include all theories that relate to the physical body (bones, organs, tissues, cells, etc.) and their functions. Eastern views relate to energy or ‘chi’, the body’s vital energy force. All have been shown to be valid within a large number of people with a wide range of problems and issues.Also included here are several conditions which may be helped with reflexology sessions. For more help with conditions, click here
For pain reduction:
Direct pressure on specific reflexes interrupts sensory transmission which short-circuits and confuses the nervous system so pain is not perceived by the brain in the same way. Also, the stimulation of points on the feet stimulates the release of endorphins from the pituitary gland (in the brain) which is the body’s natural pain killer.
For foot and leg problems:
Along with appropriate medical care, reflexology can be very effective (separate these words) in easing common foot pain and disorders such as bunions, neuroma, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, etc. because it helps to open up joint space as well as stretching fascia (connective tissue) that may be tight and causing pain and inflammation on the bottom of the foot.
For increasing circulation:
The alternating pressure used in reflexology stimulates not only the nerves, but also the skin and underlying cellular tissue increasing the blood flow resulting in more oxygen to the cells. Also stimulated is the circulation of neurochemicals and hormones secreted from the glands. Note: There are many causes for circulatory problems and a medical specialist should be consulted to diagnose and monitor this potentially serious condition.
An increase in circulation removes waste as well as brings nutrients to cells. Deposits of waste or ‘crystals’ consisting of lactic, pyruvic, uric acid and calcium form at nerve endings in the feet. The gentle pressure of reflexology can crush them and send them through the circulation for elimination.
For immune support
General circulation is improved by reflexology which in turn will stimulate the transport of important nutrients through the lymphatic system, vital to your immune function (your body’s defense against infection and disease).
For reducing the effects of stress (deep relaxation)
Stress in many forms compromises the complex and important balance of hormones in the body. ‘The Stress Response’ is named largely for the flood of (stress) hormones as well as muscle contraction and nervous tension that occurs when the brain perceives a threat of some type (a stressor). These hormones are secreted by your sympathetic nervous system to basically help you get through the difficulty. However, when stress is sustained for long periods of time which is common with most stressors, the body can no longer maintain a natural balance. ‘Good’ hormones are also suppressed. Here is where the trouble begins. It is important to know that hormones powerfully affect and influence the entire body. Without addressing the source of stress and tending to ourselves through proper rest and relaxation, exercise, emotional balance, lifestyle adjustments, dietary changes, etc., immune problems are likely to arise. This means that we no longer have the defenses needed to ward off harmful bacteria, viruses and antagonists of all kinds. This is a complex and far-reaching problem. A compromised immune system can result in frequency of colds or flu, infections, allergies, asthma and inflammatory conditions of all kinds. Over time, as inflammation spreads, much more serious problems can occur including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and cancer.
Reflexology activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the calming and restoring balance to the sympathetic nervous system mentioned above. The effect of activating this part of your nervous system is aptly called ‘The Relaxation Response’. With this system activated, muscle contraction, blood pressure, heart rate and nervous tension are reduced. Sleep improves and the body’s ability to repair itself is enhanced. Also, this system triggers the brain to release ‘good’ hormones that relax and soothe the mind and provide some means for understanding and tending to the source of stress. It is now scientifically proven that Relaxation aids healing.
For energy enhancement
Energy travels along pathways throughout the body. Often, through everyday stress, energy blocks occur and over time can result in pain and/or disease. This can occur in any organ or gland along the pathway. Reflexology can help to unblock these pathways. There is a lightness and a clarity when energy is freed. Then healing can occur more naturally.
For emotional/mental release
Touch is essential for human beings. A good reflexologist is attuned to the client’s specific needs regarding pressure and techniques to maximize relaxation. With relaxation, there is a decrease in muscle tension, mental activity, restlessness and anxiety. Sometimes, in a confused emotional state, reflexology will help emotions ‘surface’ and the client feels more in touch with what is happening. Hormones released by the brain during reflexology can ‘take the edge off’ and provide a feeling of well-being. For difficult emotions, therapy from a qualified professional may be helpful. Reflexology is particularly effective during/after extreme or prolonged emotional stress including grief, depression, anger and anxiety, especially when accompanied by psychotherapy or spiritual counseling.
The nerve endings (synapses) of the feet are interconnected with other nerves throughout the body. If there is an imbalance someplace in the body, it interrupts the bio-electrical energy to other areas causing congestion and eventually disease. Restoring the affected areas brings relief throughout the system.
Inter-body communication through connective tissue Through pressure and the twisting or stretching of connective tissue of the feet, an electric current is generated in the tissue which is directly connected to all other connective tissue in the body. So a reflex and the connective tissue pressed in one area could affect a healing response elsewhere in the body. Actually, it has been reported that this transmission is faster than the communication through nerve pathways. This theory of how reflexology works is gaining more recognition from researchers who want to shed light on why reflexology is so effective.
To learn more about reflexology and its benefits,click here
Note: A reflexologist cannot diagnose or prescribe. Reflexology complements medical care and is not a replacement for it. You should seek medical help if you have an urgent or acute problem.