REFLEXOLOGY Overview Information
Reflexology uses pressure points primarily on the soles of the feet, hands, or ears. Practitioners of reflexology believe that applying pressure to these points can affect specific organs or processes in the body.
Historians believe that reflexology was first practiced in China about 5000 years ago. The first practitioner of reflexology in the United States was Dr. William Fitzgerald, who called the practice “Zone Therapy” in 1913. He believed that the body was made up of 10 zones running lengthwise down the body and that applying pressure to zones on the feet stimulated organs contained in the corresponding zone of the body.
In the 1930s, a physical therapist named Eunice D. Ingham adapted Zone Therapy, suggesting that pressure points on the feet correspond to organs in the body. She then designed the foot reflexology chart that is the “map” used today for practitioners of foot reflexology.
Practitioners of reflexology do not require any specific certification or licensure. Education can include lecture, self-study, or advanced hands-on training.
Reflexology is primarily used for ongoing (chronic) pain, especially cancer-related pain. It is also used for asthma, lung disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD), chest pain (angina), back pain, constipation, children’s inability to control bowel movements (encopresis), fibromyalgia, headache, migraine, multiple sclerosis (MS), arthritis, overactive bladder, and stress.
Some women use reflexology to treat symptoms of menopause and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Breast-feeding women use reflexology to improve the flow of breast milk.
In addition to being used as a treatment, reflexology is sometimes used as a tool to help identify (diagnose) medical conditions or diseases.
How does it work?
There is no scientifically reliable information about how reflexology might work to reduce pain or treat other medical conditions. Reflexology practitioners believe that disease is caused by an energy imbalance and the reflexology can correct this imbalance. They believe that this helps the body’s natural ability to heal itself.
Possibly Effective for:
- Cancer-related pain. Some developing research suggests that a reflexology session can reduce pain and anxiety in cancer patients. But the effect doesn’t last long. Patients say the pain returns in less than 3 hours. Other developing research suggests that reflexology doesn’t reduce pain or improve the mental outlook of patients with advanced cancer.
Possibly Ineffective for:
- Menopausal symptoms. Research shows that reflexology over a period of 19 weeks doesn’t work any better than regular foot massage in treating symptoms of menopause.
- Chemotherapy. Developing research suggests that reflexology treatments are associated with improvement in some measures of quality of life in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
- Chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). Research to date shows that 50-minute reflexology sessions once weekly for four weeks do not significantly improve lung function or quality of life in people with COPD.
- Disease diagnosis. Early research shows that practitioners of reflexology are unable to consistently detect symptoms or accurately diagnose medical conditions.
- Inability to control bowel movements (encopresis). Some research suggests that 30-minute reflexology sessions for six sessions increase bowel movements and decrease soiling episodes in children with encopresis and constipation.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Research to date shows that receiving 30-minute reflexology sessions for six sessions over a two-month period does not reduce symptoms of IBS such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea.
- Breast-feeding. Some women report that reflexology helps their milk flow; but other women say it doesn’t.
- Migraine headache. Some research suggests that reflexology might help improve feelings of well-being in people with migraine headaches; but the design of the study has been criticized, leading experts to think the results cannot be relied on.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS). Reflexology treatment for 11 weeks reduces skin tingling, urinary problems, and involuntary muscle contractions (spasticity) in people with MS. However, it doesn’t significantly improve muscle strength.
- Overactive bladder. Some research shows that, compared to regular foot massage, reflexology might reduce daytime urinary frequency in women with overactive bladder. However, there were some problems with the way this study was carried out, and some experts dispute the results.
- Water retention (edema) due to pregnancy. There is some evidence that reflexology does not significantly reduce foot and ankle edema in pregnant women in the last three months of pregnancy. However, reflexology sessions did seem to improve the women’s stress, tension, anxiety, discomfort, irritability, tiredness, and pain.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). There is some evidence that receiving 30-minute reflexology sessions once weekly for 8 weeks decreases PMS symptoms including bloating, cramps, breast tenderness, anxiety, depression, and irritability.
- Tension headache. Developing research suggests that reflexology might help improve feelings of well-being in people with tension-type headaches. But the study design has been criticized, so some experts question the results.
- Total knee replacement. Research to date suggests that reflexology sessions after knee replacement surgery do not significantly reduce pain.
- Back pain.
- Stress reduction.
- Other conditions.
REFLEXOLOGY Side Effects & Safety
Reflexology is safe for most people. Practitioners of reflexology say that some people experience some side effects such as feelings of fatigue, nausea, or flu-like symptoms. But there is not enough information to know how often this might occur.