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Reflexology for Better Health

Explore the body benefits of pressure point therapy
Written by 
Canyon Ranch Staff
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
October 21, 2013

Reflexology may not be as familiar of a treatment to you as, say, acupuncture, but its health benefits are worth exploring. It can help reduce the intensity of PMS, migraines, back pain and more, but what’s perhaps most attractive to those who receive it is that it is a noninvasive, medication-free pain relief solution.

How Reflexology Works

Though modern reflexology techniques were developed in the early 1900s, the roots of this treatment go back to ancient Egypt and China. Reflexology works on the premise that energy moves along channels throughout the body. This energy becomes accessible through points along the surface of the feet, hands and ears.

By pressing reflexology points at specific locations along these energy channels, a reflexologist can relieve energy blockages “reflexively” connected to organs, glands and various body parts. “It’s this unblocking of energy that facilitates the benefits of this ancient healing modality,” says Jordan Barton, L.M.T., a massage therapist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. Manipulating these pressure points also stimulates the nervous system, encourages the release of feel-good endorphins and enhances the functioning of the lymphatic system.

This is similar to the approach used by acupuncturists, who instead apply thin needles at certain points all over the body to achieve the same results. Recently, Chinese researchers claimed to have located these acupoints on CT scans. 

Small studies indicate reflexology's usefulness in treating conditions such as PMS, headaches, asthma, back pain, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. Other research has shown that reflexology may be beneficial for managing pain and other symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis and cancer, and even non-pain-related concerns, such as anxiety.

What to Expect During Reflexology

Before you receive a reflexology treatment, your therapist will most likely have you complete a form or answer some questions about your medical history. He or she will use the information to create a customized session that targets your individual needs.

The reflexology session, which can range from 30 to 60 minutes in length, will begin with you lying on a table or sitting in a chair with your bare feet exposed. Most therapists start by massaging the feet and/or the hands, and they often utilize many techniques and implements when stimulating the reflex points, including finger and thumb pressure, oils or aromatherapy products, and instruments like dowels, balls and brushes. You should never feel pain during your treatment, but you may feel pressure on your feet and tingling in other areas of the body. Many therapists end the session by showing you how to perform simple reflexology techniques for self-treatment at home. Your therapist may also recommend returning for weekly sessions for one to two months, depending on your health concerns.

While most people feel pleasantly relaxed and calm after a reflexology session, some experience uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea, fatigue and mood swings.

Is Reflexology Good For You?

Reflexology can benefit men and women of all ages. Anyone with a recent injury, wound on the foot or ankle or active gout should avoid reflexology until completely recovered. Reflexology may be risky for people with diabetes, osteoarthritis on the foot or ankle, severe circulation problems affecting the lower extremities, certain cancers, heart disease, untreated hypertension, active infections, mental illness, gallstones and kidney stones. Talk to your doctor before you try reflexology if you have any of these concerns.

Though helpful in reducing foot swelling during pregnancy, reflexology is also thought to induce labor if performed incorrectly.

How to Experience Reflexology

Because there is currently no regulation of reflexology in the United States, it’s best to seek a therapist who has been certified by the American Reflexology Certification Board and has completed at least 200 hours of study and practice at a recognized institution. A respectable reflexologist should have no problem offering up details of their training if you ask for them. Avoid seeing any therapist who claims to actually heal serious illnesses.

You may also want to choose a therapist who is licensed in another established modality like massage therapy, physical therapy or nursing, so he or she can work to address your issue from more than one angle. To find a reflexologist near you, go to the Reflexology Association of America’s website.

Reference(s) 
American Reflexology Certification Board
The Association of Reflexologists, England
Journal of Electron Spectroscopy and Related Phenomena (December 2013)
National Institutes of Health
Reflexology Association of America