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11 Reflections on Reflexology

By Gay Falkowski
Reflexology is the application of appropriate pressure to specific points and areas on the feet, hands, and ears. Reflexologists believe that these reflex points correspond to different body organs and systems, and that pressing them has a beneficial effect on a person's health. This type of therapy is sometimes used by people with multiple sclerosis, and is considered to be a form of complementary and alternative medicine. If you’re thinking about trying reflexology, here’s an overview of what to expect and what not to expect:
 
1) MS treatment guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology provide evidence-based recommendations on many CAM practices, including reflexology: “Reflexology is possibly effective for reducing MS-associated paresthesia over 11 weeks…. Data are inadequate to support or refute the use of reflexology for pain, HRQOL [health-related quality of life], disability, spasticity, fatigue, cognition, bowel/bladder function, depression, anxiety, or insomnia in MS.” Paresthesia is an abnormal sensation such as tingling, tickling, pricking, numbness or burning.
 
2) One study conducted in people with MS suggests reflexology may improve bladder difficulties, sensory problems, and muscle stiffness. However, more research needs to be done in order to determine whether reflexology has definite therapeutic effects.
 
3) Reflexology should be a supplement to front-line medical community therapy and care, not a solution or substitute to professional medical care. Many people with MS report that reflexology has helped them and many others say it seems to have had no effect at all.
 
4) Choose a trained reflexologist to perform the reflexology treatment. Those who practice reflexology may also be chiropractors, massage therapists, and physical therapists.
 
5) Though reflexology is more than just massage, a typical session often begins with a foot massage and is followed by stimulation of the reflex points on the feet, hands, and/or ears.
 
6) Reflexologists divide the body into ten equal vertical zones, five on the right and five on the left. Foot and hand charts help guide the reflexologists as they apply pressure to specific areas. Each foot, hand, and ear is associated only with the body parts and organs on its half of the body.
 
7) Sometimes the reflexologist uses items such as rubber bands, sticks of wood, rubber balls, or other materials to apply the therapy. 
 
8) Reflexologists apply therapy to help release stress, with a goal of allowing the body to heal and regenerate. There are several theories about how this process works.
 
9) According to one theory, the reflexologist's application of pressure to feet, hands, or ears sends a calming message from the peripheral nerves in these extremities to the central nervous system, which in turn signals the body to adjust the tension level. This enhances overall relaxation, brings internal organs and their systems into a state of optimum functioning, and increases blood supply (which brings additional oxygen and nutrients to cells and enhances waste removal). It positively affects the circulatory, respiratory, endocrine, immune, and neuropeptide systems in the body.
 
10) Another theory suggests there is a "vital energy" in the human body. If stress is not addressed, it leads to congestion of energy, which in turn causes bodily inefficiencies, which can lead to illness. According to this theory, reflexology helps keep the energy flowing. Reflexologists often refer to one’s Qi, which is a term meaning “material energy”, “life force”, or “energy flow.” Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese martial arts.
 
11) Reflexology is generally well tolerated, with no known serious side effects. People with foot conditions, such as gout, ulcers, vascular disease, and arthritis, should approach this treatment with caution. Reflexology is usually not considered to be painful.