Reflexology is a type of massage therapy based on the theory that all parts of the body are represented by specific spots in the hands and feet, and that stimulating these spots can have a positive effect on the corresponding body part. It’s been found to relieve anxiety and pain, assist with loss of sensation and pain in those with diabetes, ease constipation, and help reduce premenstrual symptoms. It can even alleviate sensory, motor, and urinary complications in people with multiple sclerosis.
Drawings on Egyptian tombs appear to indicate that foot massages were used therapeutically some 5,000 years ago. Today, there are many variations of massage practiced around the world, including reflexology, which works by massaging specific areas on the hands and feet to stimulate neural pathways. According to the doctrine of reflexology, every part of the body, including glands and organs, are represented by specific areas (reflexes) on the feet and hands. For instance, the tip of the toe on the foot is related to the left hemisphere of the brain. Health problems in any part of the body can be detected in the corresponding reflex area, and stimulating or massaging that area will have a positive effect on the diseased part of the body. By applying pressure to specific points in the body, reflexology is similar to acupressure, but it only focuses on pressure points in the hands and feet instead of throughout the entire body.
How Does It Work?
Although the specific mechanisms behind reflexology are still mostly unknown, many theories seek to explain its beneficial effects:
The Energy Theory: According to this theory, reflexes are linked to other parts of the body through energy pathways. Applying pressure on the reflexes supports the natural balance of energy and promotes healing within the body.
The Lactic Acid Theory: This theory suggests that lactic acid settles as microcrystals in the feet and that reflexology crushes these crystals, allowing energy to flow freely. It has also been suggested that reflexology improves blood flow and has a relaxing effect on the autonomic nervous system.
Relieves Premenstrual Syndrome
Want to cure your PMS? Book a reflexology session. A study found that 30 minutes of reflexology treatment once a week for two months resulted in a decrease in premenstrual symptoms. The participants also felt relaxed by the treatment (many of them even fell asleep during the sessions) and stated that they felt more energetic the next day. The researchers suggest that these results may be due to positive changes in adrenal, pituitary, and gonadal activity.
Reduces Diabetes Pain
People with diabetes often suffer from pain in their lower limbs and may even experience loss of sensation in their legs or feet. Research has found that reflexology can actually improve these symptoms, as well as nerve conductivity and blood glucose levels.
Manages Anxiety and Pain
If you’ve ever received any type of therapeutic massage, you’ll know how quickly your anxiety can evaporate with just the right touch. In one study, participants with lung or breast cancer experienced significant relief from anxiety when they were given foot reflexology. Breast cancer patients also experienced a reduction in pain, but, interestingly, those with lung cancer – the majority of whom were male – seemed to show a greater reduction in anxiety than those with breast cancer.
When receiving a reflexology treatment, endorphins are released, muscles relax, and blood circulation increases, all which can bring some much-needed pain relief. One study found that nurses with chronic lower back pain experienced lowered intensity of pain after receiving reflexology.
Reflexology techniques such as thumb walking can help to reduce constipation and increase bowel movements. In one pilot study, participants with chronic constipation underwent reflexology sessions once a week for 6 weeks. About 94% of the participants reported improvement in their symptoms. Even children seem to benefit. A study which looked at children aged between 1 and 12 years with constipation found reflexology to be helpful as a supplementary treatment to standard medical care. Over the course of 12 weeks, reflexology improved bowel movements, pain, general health, and behavior.
Improves Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
Reflexology can even help patients with multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system that currently has no cure. One study found that patients showed improvement in sensory, motor, and urinary symptoms after just 11 weeks of reflexology treatment. Those with multiple sclerosis also found that reflexology helped them relax and sleep better, reduced pain, stopped spasms, stabilized bowel and bladder problems, and helped with balance.