Reflexology: Does This Therapeutic Foot Massage Work?
Can reflexology really help with health problems?
The short answer is a most resounding "yes." This complementary therapy is not just extremely effective but is also non-invasive, making it ideal for people who have a fear of acupuncture needles or are embarrassed about getting undressed for massage or aromatherapy.
Although it is true some people are nervous of baring their feet in front of a stranger, fearing the therapy might tickle, this is rarely the case.
More often people are worried that their feet might be smelly, and whilst it is true some feet can sometimes be a little malodorous, it is rarely an obstacle to treatment as the therapist should offer a pre-treatment wash in a foot spa.
How does reflexology work?
Reflexology, like so many of our complementary therapies, is thought to have originated in China around 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. It is an acupressure technique that usually employs systematic pressure from thumb and forefingers to all the areas of the feet.
It is believed that neural pathways extend from the top of the head straight down through the body ending in the hands and feet. So pressure applied to specific areas of the hands or feet is believed to stimulate all the bodily organs and systems sitting on the neural pathways currently being worked on. This encourages the clearance of any blocked energies that may be causing health problems in the corresponding area of the actual body.
Whilst it is true that reflexology can also be performed on the hands this does seem to be slightly less effective than when it is administered to the feet. Working on the hands however does make it possible to treat amputees or those clients stubbornly resistant to having their feet treated.
Does reflexology hurt?
I would be lying if I said reflexology is never painful. When there is some sort of imbalance or health disorder in the body the corresponding area on the hands or feet will indeed be, at the very least, tender and sometimes quite painful.
This is a positive thing as the location of the pain on the foot tells the therapist which area or organ of the physical body has an imbalance. As pain is such a clear indication that there is a problem the reflexologist will continue to work this area to stimulate the energy pathway to right itself.
The movements can either be a circulating pressure with the thumb or a repeated 'caterpillar' inching action with the thumb or forefinger. If it is extremely painful then the therapist may use a lighter pressure and will only work for as long as the client can stand it, although usually the pain actually decreases as the area continues to be worked.
As soon as the health problem starts to clear, the full relaxing effect of reflexology starts to be felt and many people fall asleep on the therapist's couch as they are being treated.
How many treatments are needed?
It seems that if treatment is started as soon as a condition arises it can be cleared relatively easily with two or three treatments at the most. However longer-standing conditions will take longer to clear. The clear lesson here is that one should always get health problems sorted quickly and not live with them until they become chronic and thus more difficult to eradicate.
Some reflexologists prefer that a client has a set course of at least six treatments whilst others prefer to assess the client on a treatment to treatment basis. A reputable therapist will tell you if they feel the therapy is not helping and of course, like most therapies, there are times when it does not help. The therapist may even suggest a different therapy to the client if they feel that may genuinely help their problem.
Are there any after-effects?
After the first one or two treatments, yes. Often the body will be stimulated to detox itself and the client may find they go to the toilet more often, they may even develop a headache as they go through what is known as this "healing process." These again are positive signs and drinking plenty of spring water will speed up this process.
Once this is over however most people notice many beneficial side effects, apart from the clearing of their presenting problem, such as more energy, improved sleep patterns and an ability to cope with stress better.
At this point many clients opt for maintenance treatments, usually once a month, to maintain balance in their body and prevention of a recurrence of their original problem. Such regular treatments may also prevent other illnesses from occurring.
My reflexology credentials
I started my career in complementary therapy as a reflexologist and the training I undertook at the time was extremely rigorous. I not only had to learn the usual correct pressure and treatment protocol but I also had to take an in-depth examination on the anatomy of the human body.
At that time this examination was akin to the one that nurses had to take and I was extremely proud of the fact that I passed it with a distinction having obtained 97% of the total marks. It was now time to take my skills out into the world and help people though persuading them that their health problems could be eased, and often cured, by pressing various areas of their feet was not an easy task. For most Yorkshire folk this sounded like so much hocus pocus and for a while it was touch and go as to whether or not I was going to be burnt as a witch.
However I persevered and gradually built up a client base as word got round that this strange treatment was effectively helping people with their complaints. Word of mouth is the best advertising tool of any and it is free, all you have to do is good reflexology.
Many reflexologists seem to believe that the harder the pressure they use the more effective they will be. I would like to state here that I have never found that to be the case. Gentle, prolonged (if possible) pressure is usually just as effective and is certainly a lot easier on the client.
Although I have used reflexology for all sorts of ailments from sciatica to depression I have found it particularly effective in the treatment of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and PMT (Pre-menstrual Tension) to name just two conditions. In both cases reflexology has been the only method needed for the removal of the presenting symptoms of these conditions and none of the clients needed to use additional drugs.
In the case of IBS, a once monthly treatment kept the colon relaxed and functioning efficiently without pain or any other symptoms and the client noticed a great improvement in all the general functions of her digestive system.
In the case of PMT (sometimes known as PMS) a treatment as soon as my clients period was due saved her from 'becoming a monster' (her words). She was so impressed by the effectiveness of this monthly treatment that when I moved away she trained to become a reflexologist herself. This was not just to self-treat as she also went on to become an extremely professional and well-respected reflexologist.
When my husband had kidney stones and the pain relief drugs he had been given had no beneficial effect, I gave him reflexology. I was a little puzzled when the area on the feet relating to the kidneys showed no apparent tenderness. What pain there was confined to his bladder area. All was revealed less than an hour later when he went to urinate and passed a kidney stone the size of a grape pip.
His pain relented instantly but of course when he told his doctor he thought reflexology had speeded, or even induced, the passing of the stone the doctor was noncommittal, to put it politely.
The scepticism of the medical profession is a common occurrence for all complementary therapists and it is important for therapists to cultivate a certain robust air of detachment or they will never function usefully at all.
Thinking of training to be a complementary therapist?
Only by being hard working, highly trained and as professional as a traditional doctor can a complementary therapist hope to be included as an integral part of today's medical profession. It will take time and commitment.
You will need to constantly update your skills when new developments appear in your therapy (this is known as CPD - Continuing Professional Development) and you will also need to realise that you are there for your clients ... not as some sort of trip for your own ego. You are not a healer, you merely facilitate the body to heal itself by stimulating its own self-healing mechanism.
However there are rewards that will inspire you such as seeing the miracle of your clients becoming well and happy. Also, finding that your therapies, be it reflexology or whatever, can often be more effective than modern medicine with far fewer unpleasant side effects (and those only short term), must make complementary medicine one of the most satisfying ways of earning a living in today's world.
The Golden Rules
As with most things in life it is important to behave with total integrity in the practice of complementary therapies. The following are the most important guidelines of any.
- Never, ever diagnose. You can tell when an area is tender or painful of course but you should never state that it is because of any definite illness or disorder. Even if you have some sort of an idea you must keep it to yourself. It is not your place to diagnose an illness and it is extremely unprofessional to do so. After all, you may be wrong and you may worry your client unnecessarily. Discretion is a very necessary attribute for a therapist to have.
- Never, ever advise that a client comes off their medication. They may need to go back to their doctor to get their dosage revised downwards after having had treatment with you and you can tell them they may need to do this but it is then their responsibility to follow this up.
- Never promise to cure cancer. Cancer is a law unto itself as yet and it is unethical to promise you can cure it. I steered clear of using reflexology on cancer patients unless they had a terminal diagnosis when I used it to help them sleep or manage their stress levels.
Final thoughts: alternative or complementary?
The use of the word "alternative" implies that therapies should be used as an "alternative" to what has become traditional medicine over the years ... modern drug-based/surgical intervention medicine. To me this seems wrong. I always preferred to use my therapies as an adjunct to modern medicine rather than an alternative.
That is why I always use the term 'complementary' when discussing therapies. I believe that they complement modern medicine by adding to or bolstering its effectiveness and my hope is that this will one day lead to fully integrated medicine with the two disciplines combining to provide ever more effective treatments.
(It is important here to note the distinct difference between complementary and complimentary. This is a common mistake made when therapists advertise. Complimentary could imply that you are doing it for free, which is rarely the case. It always pays to make sure you get your spelling right otherwise it could just call into question your educational abilities and that may just impact negatively on how clients regard your ability to train for your therapy).
Gravitas, like professionalism, encourages confidence in a therapist and confidence is everything in complementary therapy.