Reflexology Massage: The Benefits Explained

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female therapist does reflexology foot massage

 What Is Reflexology Massage?

The ancient Chinese practiced Reflexology massage based on their theory that reflexology therapy stimulates the body to heal itself.

They believed by improving circulation, reducing stress and restoring a natural balance it resulted in improved overall wellbeing.

Although the practice follows principles that may seem foreign to western medicine, clients say they feel their general health and wellbeing is improved after reflexology massage therapy.

Reflexology is administered via the application of appropriate firm micro-movement and gentle pressure to areas of the hands, feet and ears. These reflex points are mapped to specific areas of the body, such as bones, systems (cardiovascular and intestinal for example), as well as organs or glands. When applied properly the combination of pressure and manipulation to very specific areas is believed to create positive responses throughout the body.

Reflexology should not be used to diagnose or cure health issues but it is becoming ever more popular worldwide as a means to complement other treatments. Reflexology massage therapies are increasingly being used to alleviate many conditions including anxiety, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular, diabetes, kidney and bladder functions.

In countries throughout Europe and in Denmark in particular, many municipalities and companies are using Treatment Reflexology Massage as a preventative therapy. The employers report seeing reduced sick leave and absenteeism, while one study showed almost one third of employees reported increased satisfaction with their jobs after six
reflexology massage treatments.

Massage therapy and specifically Reflexology massage can also be good for post-operative care especially when used as a complementary therapy however, it should not be used as a replacement for proper medical treatment.

Common Reflexology Misconceptions

Reflexology is often confused with acupressure therapies and techniques, and I also find many people seem to think of it as only relating the feet, so they’re surprised when I work on their hands and also around their ears.

I thought it may be helpful to share some of the most common misunderstandings and misstatements I’ve come across related to reflexology and in some cases related to massage in general:

  • Some people expect that Reflexology and even massage in general is going to painful or that it needs to be painful in order to be effective – this is simply not so, it’s so very inaccurate and just plain wrong.
  • Some believe if the reflexology techniques vary from one therapist to another, then one of them must be “doing it wrong”. As with most things each therapist will develop their own “style” but also a good therapist will typically adjust and adapt treatment to address their specific needs. So there’s no right or wrong way to administer reflexology therapy but it is important that the therapist is properly trained and certified in reflexology to ensure best results.
  • I’ve even been asked if reflexology is a form of “fortune telling type dark-art or palm reading”! No absolutely not. I can’t tell your future, your past or the darkest secrets about your medical history (even if you do actually have any) but it’s still always important that you discuss your medical history and any conditions with your therapist before they begin working on your body. This allows us to adjust and accommodate treatment to ensure the best outcome for you.
  • Likewise some clients have expected to jump up from the table feeling 10 years younger and 10lbs lighter! You’re not always going to experience a major shift in your energy level or in your overall health after just one session or as soon as you get up off the massage table. It can take time to feel the full effects of a
    treatment but multiple or regular sessions will typically improve the efficacy of treatments over time.

History Of Reflexology Therapy

Reflexology has been around for so long its absolute origin is difficult to confirm and as with many things in ancient times it’s thought to have been passed down through the generations. There is evidence of the reflexology shown in this pictograph from the Egyptian tomb of Ankhamor in 2330 BC.

There are multiple examples of reflexology symbols to be found throughout history and across cultures from India to China. There is a chapter on an “Examining Foot Method” in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, written about 1,000 BC this is thought to be one if not the earliest printed references to the connection
of life force as it relates to foot reflexology.

Marco Polo is said to have translated a Chinese massage book into Italian in the 1300’s and that is generally credited with introducing both reflexology and massage to Europe. A book published in 1582 by Dr. Adamus and Dr. A’tatis had the first reference to reflexology called zone therapy.

William H. Fitzgerald, MD is often referred to as the father of reflexology here in the US and in 1917 he wrote about ten vertical zones extending the length of the body. He found the application of pressure to a specific zone corresponding to an area of injury could result in pain relief during minor surgery.

His work was expanded by Dr. Shelby Riley by developing a map of horizontal zones and a detailed map of reflex points on both feet and hands along with pressure points on the outer ear.

Eunice Ingham worked for Dr. Riley and in her work she found the feet to be the most sensitive and the most responsive. She is also credited with introducing reflexology to the non-medical community in the 1930’s. Ms. Ingham developed the foot maps we still use today and also designed one of the most commonly used reflexology charts which was refined by her nephew Dwight Byers at the International Reflexology Institute.

Slightly more recently in 1957, Dr. Paul Nogier mapped reflex points on the outer ear. His work was expanded on by Oleson and Flocco and is now taught as part and parcel of an integrated approach to hand, foot and ear reflexology.

Why Have A Reflexology Massage?

I found several well documented research studies from both the US and other parts of the world, all indicate the positive benefits of reflexology massage therapy for a variety of conditions.

There are several studies with those funded by the National Cancer Institute and the US DHHS National Institutes of Health being the most commonly quoted, that indicate reflexology as an effective intervention to reduce pain, help with relaxation, sleep, anxiety and depression. There seemed to be significant results in regard to cancer palliation (Ernst, Posadzki & Lee 2010).

Most interestingly Kunz and Kunz (2008) summarized 168 research studies and abstracts from journals around the world including peer-reviewed journals from China and Korea. Based on the studies they reviewed there were four primary benefits demonstrated by reflexology:

  • Reflexology has an impact on specific organs (MRI’s showed increased blood flow to kidney’s and intestines).
  • Reflexology can demonstrate positive changes related to kidney function in dialysis patients).
  • Reflexology supports relaxation (EEG’s show alpha and theat waves, blood pressure and anxiety were all lowered).
  • Reflexology helps control and manage pain (27 studies recorded reduction in pain for patients with issues as diverse as AIDS, chest pain, diabetic neuropathy, kidney stones and osteoarthritis).

Some examples of specific health concerns the research studies found reflexology to be helpful with are:

  • Anxiety
  • Cancer Treatment
  • Cardiovascular System
  • Diabetes Type II
  • Migraine/Tension Headache
  • Kidney Function
  • Organs – lung, liver, stomach, pancreas and small intestine

So there are many reasons, supported by credible medical research that show reflexology massage can be beneficial to many.

Precautions & Contra-Indications:

There are no side effects associated with Reflexology massage. If you’re pregnant, please talk with your doctor before scheduling a service and let the therapist know you had that conversation with your medical care provider.

Be sure to give the reflexologist a complete and accurate health history. If you have foot ulcers, injury, or blood vessel disease such as blood clots, consult your doctor before having reflexology.

Anyone who is pregnant, has varicose veins, high blood pressure, ulcers or any kind of skin disease or arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, or blood vessel diseases such as blood clots you should consult with your doctor prior to having a Reflexology massage treatment.

You should always discuss your medical history with your therapist prior to having any massage service, just so they can help you understand if there are any potential issues or contra-indications based on your personal history and needs.

It’s always very important to let your therapist know ALL medications you are taking, but especially any that may react to the pressure used in Reflexology massage treatments.

It’s also very important to always re-hydrate during and after any massage treatment.

I hope this post helps to clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding reflexology and that it will perhaps encourage you to give it a try. If you’re still unsure and want to hedge your bets consider a combination Reflexology and European (also known as Swedish) massage sometime – it really is the best of both worlds 🙂

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