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Origin, benefits, efficacy, and methodology
Reflexology comes under complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM involves treatments that are used to either assist or replace conventional treatment. The House of Lords Committee for Science and Technology consider reflexology to be a series of therapies that are used to accompany traditional medicine. The popularity of CAM has increased over the years because people now prefer more holistic ways to stay healthy.1
What is Reflexology? Where did it originate?
Reflexology is a non-invasive and non-pharmacological complementary therapy. It is the science of studying human health using particular reflex or reflexology areas that exist in the feet, ears, and hands. Literature reports that reflexology may correct dysfunction in organs and set up homeostasis in the functioning of organs.2
Reflexology is based on the premise that the skin areas of the hands; ears or feet represent the targeted body parts.
- When impulses are induced in the reflexology areas by external stimulation of a particular intensity, they reach the targeted parts of the body through nerve pathways or activities similar to hormones.
- These impulses correct the abnormal functioning of the targeted body parts, if any. The working principle of reflexology is said to be similar to that of acupuncture.2
Reflexology was believed to have been first practiced in China over 5,000 years ago. In the United States, the first practitioner of reflexology was Dr. William Fitzgerald. He named the practice “Zone Therapy” in 1913. His observation was that the body is categorized of 10 zones running lengthwise down the body. Putting pressure to these zones located on the feet stimulates the targeted organs of the body.5
In the 1930s, Eunice D. Ingham adapted the Zone Therapy to suggest that certain pressure points on the feet correspond to organs in the body. She designed a “foot reflexology map” which is used as a “map” by modern reflexologists.
How is reflexology beneficial?
Here is a list of benefits of reflexology:
- Improves the life quality of patients suffering from cancer
- Decreases pain and anxiety in patients suffering from breast and lung cancers, premenstrual syndrome, etc.
- Decreases the frequency of seizures
- Improves the quality of life in intractable epilepsy2
Studies/research on its efficacy
Jones et al., 2012 (Scotland, U.K.) – A double blind randomized controlled study on reflexology concluded that there may be a link between reflexology stimulation to the heart reflex area and cardiac blood flow and circulation.2
- Ruiz-Padial et l., 2012 (Spain) – A randomized controlled study concluded that increase in blood pressure in the reflexology group suggests a “co-activation of the two branches of autonomic nervous system,” the sympathetic and parasympathetic pathways namely.2
How is reflexology performed?
Surface features that can be externally recorded, either in combination with reflexology areas or singly, are:
- Tenderness in response to pressure
- Skin color – reddish brown, brown or dark brown, jet black
- Texture – recurring corns, cracking or scaling skin
- Formation of concavity or convexity – depression, puffiness or swelling
- Rise in localized temperature
- Change in electrical impedance
- Perceived presence of tiny granules3
How can you get started with reflexology?
Reflexology triggers specific physical and physiological responses. The therapy hastens a deep sense of relaxation.
- Since about 75% of disease is related to stress, it helps regain good health faster.
- Reflexology also stimulates the free flow of blood and lymph to the cells and tissues.
- After treatment, a significant and beneficial rise in temperature occurs which may last for several hours.
- Lastly, reflexology stimulates the flow of energy to the nerves, revitalizing it.4
Any precautions, contraindications, interactions
Reflexology is, usually, considered to be safe for most people.
- Some people have reported side effects such as fatigue, flu-like symptoms, and nausea.
- Also, pregnant women and breast-feeding women should avoid reflexology to be safe, although no harmful effects have been reported so far.
- McCullough JE, Liddle SD, Sinclair M, Close C, Hughes CM. The physiological and biochemical outcomes associated with a reflexology treatment: a systematic review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:502123. doi: 10.1155/2014/502123. Epub 2014 May 5. Review. PubMed PMID: 24883067; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4026838.
- Dalal K, Maran VB, Pandey RM, Tripathi M. Determination of efficacy of reflexology in managing patients with diabetic neuropathy: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:843036. doi: 10.1155/2014/843036. Epub 2014 Jan 9. PubMed PMID: 24527055; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3913279.
- Dalal K, Elanchezhiyan D, Das R, Dalal D, Pandey RM, Chatterjee S, Upadhyay AD, Maran VB, Chatterjee J. Noninvasive characterisation of foot reflexology areas by swept source-optical coherence tomography in patients with low back pain. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:983769. doi: 10.1155/2013/983769. Epub 2013 Mar 11. PubMed PMID: 23662156; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3608122.
- Pitman V., MacKenzie. Reflexology: A Practical Approach. Nelson Thornes; 2002. 278 p.