Alternative Medicine - Reflexology

Reflexology is a type of body therapy that involves applying pressure to certain points, referred to as reflex points, on the foot. Many people seek reflexology for relaxation and to improve their health and well-being. It is thought that by pressing points on the feet, impulses are sent through pathways to certain areas of the body, increasing energy and health in those areas. During treatments, patients may even feel tingling sensations in the parts of the body to which the impulses are being sent. Reflexology is thought to help anxiety, asthma and allergies, chronic pain, diarrhea and constipation, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), skin problems, and stress.


Massage therapists work hard to make sure their clients feel comfortable when receiving a massage. Clients usually are asked to remove most of their clothing during the massage. However, if this makes clients feel uneasy, therapists can provide a towel or sheet to cover up their clients, leaving only the body part being massaged exposed. Some clients like to have complete quiet during a massage while others enjoy music. Therapists will accommodate their clients in every way possible, providing soft music or total silence. Oils and lotions may also be used if the client wants, but these things are not necessary to a good massage. While some clients prefer not to talk during a massage, a successful session often relies on good communication between the client and the therapist. A good therapist should answer any questions a client has and lay to rest any anxiety the client may have.

Overall, the most important thing for a good massage is for the therapist to be well trained in the areas of anatomy (study of the human body), physiology (study of bodily functions and processes), and kinesiology (study of human movement). Also, the therapist should be sensitive to a client's needs and open to feedback to promote overall health for the client.

The Roots of Reflexology

Reflexology is approximately as old as acupuncture, which has been around for the past five thousand years. Like acupuncture, reflexology has its roots in China, but evidence has been found indicating that reflexology was also used in Egypt as far back as 2330 B.C. Reflexology was first developed in the United States by William Fitzgerald, M.D., in 1913. Fitzgerald had begun to realize that his patients would feel less pain when pressure was applied to certain areas of the body, such as the hands or feet, before surgery. Deciding to research this further, Fitzgerald conducted some experiments and concluded that pressing points on certain areas of the body produced beneficial effects in other areas of the body. Fitzgerald called this "zone therapy."

Physiotherapist Eunice Ingham further developed Fitzgerald's zone therapy into the practice that is known today as reflexology. During the 1930s, Ingham used zone therapy and concluded that applying pressure to the feet yields the best results to the body. She also asserted that it is better to vary the amount of pressure applied and that greater benefits than just pain relief occurred from applying pressure to the feet. Ingham then mapped out the reflex points on the feet to be pressed and the specific areas of the body that relate to the points on the feet. Thus reflexology was officially born in the United States.


Massage therapy for premature babies (babies that weigh less than five pounds at birth) is a relatively new phenomenon, pioneered by Dr. Tiffany Field, a child psychologist who founded the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School. Its mission is to research the medical benefits of touch and further its role in the treatment of illness and disease. Field's thinking, however, has quickly caught on with both parents and the medical community. Although doctors believed for many years that premature babies were so fragile that it would be harmful to touch them at all, this belief has been challenged by the tremendous benefits massage has produced with such babies. According to the Touch Research Institute, premature babies who are massaged three times a day develop more quickly by gaining weight faster than those preemies who are not massaged. Babies who receive massage also develop better mental and motor skills just months after their births.

Massage not only benefits premature babies, but it also aids all babies by helping them sleep better and generally be more relaxed. While the benefits of massage therapy for babies seem to be evident, many hospitals still do not have programs that incorporate this therapy, and even if they do, many insurance companies won't cover the costs. As a result, many new parents are taking classes to learn how to massage their babies at home.

How Does Reflexology Work?

Students of reflexology are trained to know the correct points to press on the foot. They may refer to foot reflexology charts that show which areas of the foot should be pressed and which organs will be affected if a certain area of the foot is pressed. The reflex points on the feet are located on the bottom as well as the top and sides of the feet. Reflexologists are taught that pressing points on the right foot affects organs on the right side of the body and pressing points on the left foot affects organs on the left side of the body. They also learn that different points on a foot relate to different organs in the body. For example, if a reflexologist presses an area just below the three middle toes, the eyes and ears may be affected, and if the tips of the big toes are pressed, the head and brain are affected. Sending impulses to these areas is thought to allow the organs to perform better and thus contribute to healing or maintaining the health of the body.


Reflexology is not the only practice that sees one part of the body as a map for the entire body. In Chinese and Indian medicine, many practitioners examine the tongue as a way to determine the health of the rest of the body. In iridology, practitioners use the iris of the eye to diagnose disease in other parts of the body. The colon has also been thought to show signs if another part of the body is suffering from an illness. Auriculur acupuncture (see Acupuncture section) focuses on the ear in order to restore or maintain health in the entire body.

According to reflexologists, other benefits of reflexology include the reduction of lactic acid in the feet. Lactic acid is a waste product produced from using muscles and too much of it can cause problems, such as stiffness. Reflexologists also believe there are tiny calcium crystals that build up at the nerve endings of the feet and cause problems in energy flow. They claim reflexology helps to break up these crystals and restore healthy energy flow.

Reflexology charts show the areas of the foot that should be pressed in order to affect certain organs. (Electronic Illustrators Group. Reproduced by permission of Gale Group.)
Reflexology charts show the areas of the foot that should be pressed in order to affect certain organs. (
Electronic Illustrators Group
. Reproduced by permission of
Gale Group

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