Reflexology: Overview

Reflexology is the physical act of applying pressure to the feet and hand with specific thumb, finger and hand techniques without the use of oil or lotion.  it is based on a system of zones and reflex areas that reflect an image of the body on the feet and hands with a premise that such work effects a physical change to the body.

Reflexology is a complement to standard medical care.  It should not be a replacement for medical help.

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According to practitioners of Reflexology, the body is reflected on the feet or hands.  Left foot/hand reflects the left side of the body and the right foot/hand the right side.  The spine reflex area runs down the insides of the foot and hand with reflex areas for the arm and shoulder reflected toward the outside of the foot or hand.  The toes and fingers reflect head and neck reflex areas as well as those of the internal parts of the body they enclose.  The ball of the foot mirrors the chest and upper back in addition the heart and lungs.  At the base of the long bones of the feet and hands is represented the waistline of the body.  Portions of the body above its waistline are mirrored above this line toward the toes or fingers and those below the waistline toward the heels of the foot or hand.  Internal organs lying above the body's waistline are reflected by reflex areas above this line while those below the waistline are mirrored below this line.


Around the world and throughout history reflexology has been rediscovered and reinstated as a health practice time and time again by peoples around the globe seeking to deal with health concerns.  Archeological evidence Egypt (2330 BC), China (2704 BC) and Japan (690 AD) points to ancient reflexology medical systems.  In the West the concept of reflexology began to emerge in the 19th century, based on research into the nervous system and reflex.  While no direct evidence of direct cross-fertilization from ancient times has been discovered, the practice of foot and hand work in a variety of cultures, belief systems and historical periods speaks to reflexology for health as a universal bridging concept.

Function; Why it is Recommended

There are many theories.  One looks at the nervous system as the explanation of reflexology's working: Pressure sensors in the feet and hands are a part of the body's reflexive response that makes possible the "fight or flight" reaction to danger.  Feet ready to flee and hands ready to fight communicate with the body's internal organs to make possible either eventuality.  The sudden adrenal surge that enables a person to lift a car is an example of this reaction.  Reflexology taps into this reflex network, providing an exercise of pressure sensors and thus the internal organs to which they are inextricably tied.

The technique is generally applied to the feet and hands, but there is a school of thought that also applies it to the ear.  These latter techniques, however, are modified from auricular therapy, which is an acupuncture technique.

It could be argued that all bodywork is reflexive therefore reflexology.  It is claimed that the extremities have a powerful influence because of locomotion.

Pressure is applied to the feet and hands using specific thumb, finger and hand techniques.  Stretch and movement techniques are utilized as "desserts" to provide relaxation to the foot.  Oil, cream and lotion is not utilized in traditional reflexology work.  Tools or instruments are used for self-help application only due to safety concerns.

In general terms the benefits of reflexology have to do with the reduction of stress.  Because the feet and hands help set the tension level for the rest of the body, they are an easy way to interrupt the stress signal and reset homeostasis – the body's equilibrium.

Whether reflexology can benefit certain conditions and diseases in still under investigation.  Further scientific study needs to be done in order to come to some definite conclusion over the benefits of reflexology with regard to illness and disease.


Reflexology can be done practically anytime and anywhere.  The key is consistency.  The Chinese do reflexology once a day for six days in two-week segments.  Then they review the results and do more segments as necessary.

This requires self-help and family help as well as the guidance of practitioners.  The practitioner can give you a quality signal to break up the pattern of stress but you and your family can provide the quantity to help break it up the stress patterns in your feet and hands.

Build reflexology into your life.  It is easy to do reflexology while doing other activities.  Put a foot roller under your desk or work your hands while waiting for the kids at school.  Be creative but be consistent.  Five minutes a day is worth more than an hour once in awhile.

Reflexology sessions in general last from 30 minutes to an hour.  Removal of shoes and socks is the only requirement.  Reflexologist will use a chair and at times a table.  Some do use oil.  However, this is a tool that is debated within the profession.  Dry technique is common.

Reflexologists use pressure, stretch and movement to work through the foot methodically.  Both feet should be worked in their entirety in most circumstances.  The reflexologist should work within your comfort zone.  Too much pressure can actually be harmful and could lead to injury.  But personal preference is something you should communicate with your reflexologist.  If you indicate that too much pressure is being used and the practitioner continues we suggest you stop the session.  You should always have your wishes respected.

Expected Outcome

Do not rely on a reflexologist for medical help.  The reflexologist is limited to complementing medicine not replacing it.

You should feel relaxation at the end of a session.  How long that relaxation lasts is a good indicator of the effectiveness of the session: Make a note of this and tell your reflexologist your response to the session.  This can be helpful information.

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Reflexology can help with the following:



Reflexology assessment takes place as stress cues are evaluated.  Stress cues are parts of the foot or hand that shows adaptation to stress.  Adaptation is shown by visual signs such as callusing, knobby toes or bunion.  Indications of stress are also seen as sensitivity to technique application or touch signs perceived by the reflexologist as technique is applied.  The assessment of such stress cues allows the reflexologist to target areas of stress and to design a session of pressure technique application appropriate to provide relaxation specific to the individual.

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