Reflexology is a holistic medicine practice that involves massaging the hands and feet, and sometimes the ears. Practitioners maintain that the areas they massage contain reflex points that form a map of the body, and by using finger and thumb massage techniques, but no oil, they achieve results in corresponding body parts or organs. Holistic medicine promotes healing with little use of surgical procedures or drugs. Check with your doctor before using relying on such treatment.
Modern reflexology began around 1917, when American physician William Fitzgerald published his notion that pressure applied to certain parts of the body could affect the health of other parts. Dr. Joe Shelby Riley further developed the theory in the 1920s, and Eunice Ingham, a physiotherapist, promoted it as a therapy for more than three decades, starting in the late 1930s, according to American Reflexology Certification Board. As of 2010, according to the board, 27 states had professional reflexology membership organizations.
Reflexology’s clearest benefit is stress relief, according to Barbara and Kevin Kunz, who have published 14 books on the topic, including the “Complete Guide to Foot Reflexology.” They claim that the hands and feet set the tone for the rest of the body and can, therefore, “interrupt the stress signal.” They suggest reflexology can also help to relieve pain, nausea and possibly high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Exactly how reflexology might achieve its claimed effects is a question without a definite answer. There are several competing theories. One involves the central nervous system, according to the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing and the Life Science Foundation: By applying pressure to the hands, feet or ears, the practitioner effectively sends a “calming message” throughout the body. Another is the “neuromatrix theory of pain,” which suggests that reflexology mitigates pain through its relaxing effects. A third is that the technique affects “vital energy”–a concept not found in Western medicine–that, if not in proper balance, can lead to “bodily inefficiencies.”