Reflexology: does this therapeutic foot massage work?

Most reflexologists have a chart showing how the areas of the feet correspond to the areas of the body.
Most reflexologists have a chart showing how the areas of the feet correspond to the areas of the body. | Source

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 - 5,000 years ago. It is an accupressure 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.

Reflexology on the hands.
Reflexology on the hands. | Source
Reflexology is often confused with basic foot massage.
Reflexology is often confused with basic foot massage. | Source
Reflexology is so much more than therapeutic massage of the feet ... helping the client relax and even the simple act of listening to them can add so much to a therapy session.
Reflexology is so much more than therapeutic massage of the feet ... helping the client relax and even the simple act of listening to them can add so much to a therapy session. | Source

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.

Case studies.

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.

Comments 23 comments

greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 4 years ago from Malaysia

Hi Angie, I am a sucker for reflexology, I do this at least twice a month. You are right, it Works. Voted up and SHARED

Maddie Ruud profile image

Maddie Ruud 4 years ago from Oakland, CA

Reflexology does work! Thanks for so clearly laying out the process for those who might not be familiar with it!

Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

@greatstuff ... thanks for commenting, I do appreciate it.

There is something very special about reflexology, isn't there? I loved having a treatment but strangely I also loved giving a treatment especially when the client dozed off. There was something very quiet and relaxing about doing this service for someone.

@Maddie Ruud ... many thanks for backing me up, Maddie! I'm afraid this hub turned out rather long but I had such a lot to tell people about reflexology. Everyone should have regular treatments ... I'm sure there would be a lot less stress and aggression about.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

Interesting, and from the horse's mouth, as it were.

Do you do toenails!?


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Sorry, Bob ... the answer to your question is 'Neigh' ... but thanks for commenting :-)

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Angie, I have been interested in reflexology for years. I have cured my daughters headaches by doing reflexology on her thumb. I am considering going for reflexology for herniated disc pain cos I've tried just about everything else and I'm ready to go with complementary medicine now.

Voted up, a very interesting hub.

Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi Jools ... I should go with it. My tutor, Beryl Crane, came to reflexology after a horse riding accident where she hurt her back. Conventional medicine simply never helped her with the pain so she tried reflexology. The rest is history ...

I am not sure if she still has her training school but there are a lot of videos of her on Youtube ... she is a real powerhouse of a woman and a very strict trainer. I think I got the best training going.

I am absolutely certain it will help you though you may need to give it a few sessions to work on such a painful ailment.

Good luck ...

Maddie Ruud profile image

Maddie Ruud 4 years ago from Oakland, CA

You can even get special socks with the areas of the body marked out on the sole, for easy self-application between treatments, too!

Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

That must be real helpful if you don't have the training ... but it is just as easy to press and rub all the areas of the feet or hands and when you find a sensitive or painful spot just keep working it until it eases off. It certainly won't do you any harm and it may just do you a power of good :)

writeronline 4 years ago

Hi Angie, this is great! Who knew you were such a professionally skilled practitioner? For me, this hub is a wee goldmine, sine I've developed a number of painful issues with my joints (jaw, hips, and now, my fingers, esp my index finger - the computer mouse one, lol,) that have resulted in a serious loss of movement, and mobility. Not joking, I think it's because I've become addicted to HubPages and have spent way too many hours, and hours, and hours over months and months sitting at my computer, and focussing on the screen!

The doctor's help has been limited to prescribing anti-inflammatories, but I want to understand the cause, not just ease the pain of the effects. So I'm very intrigued by what you've written here. (Although I just made an appt with a sports physiotherapist, so will follow through with that first..).

Thanks for such an informative Hub, Angie.

Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hello sweetie - thanks for commenting and I'm sorry to hear you have been having a bad time physically. Sitting too long is death to the body. I can tell from your avatar that you have been overdoing it. Lol.

Good luck with the physio though it could just be that it may be a little too physical for your body. The message I always gave out was to be gentle with yourself esp. as we get older and I often got people coming to me after physiotherapy.

The whole point of reflexology is that it may hurt on your feet whilst they are being worked on but that's it, no follow up exercises that you may forget to do. All you have to do is drink water for 24 hours to aid detox.

It is simply gentle stimulation of the healing mechanism implicit in every body and involves nothing that can put strain on actual joints or muscles.

Be well! And let me know if you move onto reflexology : -)

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Wonderfully detailed hub full of easy to understand explanations. I was completely unfamiliar with reflexology. I feel like I just took a mini-course. Good work. :)

Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi phdast7 ... well thank you for that.

It is a lovely therapy to have especially when you have got used to it ... I used to doze whilst I had a treatment and left buzzing afterwards. Every cell felt alive ... I can thoroughly recommend it.

TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

TIMETRAVELER2 4 years ago

Angie: This is a wonderful and very informative hub. I have had some reflexology, but now think I need to start up again...old age does have its ailments! Voted up and awesome.

Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi TT2, thanks for this comment and the vote.

I'm right with you on old age having its ailments ... a shot of reflexology just seems to loosen everything up until the next bout of gardening :)

Kavita 4 years ago

Hi..I'm from India. I would like to know if reflexology helps in healing an underactive thyroid. Would a reflexology foot massage (Thai massage) help in this?

Your page is a great and informative page. Thanks for writing it up so nicely.

Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi Kavita ... an underactive thyroid should always be treated with medication. I am not sure that they can be ‘healed’ as such and I would never recommend that one relies solely on a complementary therapy for the condition.

Having said that reflexology can help in some part. Any therapy that helps reduce the stress of illness is of value. If you do have reflexology regularly as an adjunct to medication you may find that you do have to have your medication checked as you may need to reduce the dosage.

Reputable reflexologists will always warn you that you about this if you are taking medication as it obviously does help with the take up with medication and also helps the underlying condition diminish to some extent and often clear up completely. Underactive thyroid is not one of those conditions however.

innerspin profile image

innerspin 3 years ago from uk

Your hub has re-awakened my interest in reflexology. I had a few sessions a while back, the tiny lady reflexologist chattered incessantly. It was like having my feet massaged by a budgie. Maybe I should have asked her to stop talking so much, but I just stopped going. After reading your informative hub, perhaps I'll look into different reflexologists.

Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 3 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi inner spin … thanks for stopping by with such a useful comment.

I’m afraid that chatty therapists is always a problem and you may need to either 'shop around’ for one that understands the value of peace and quiet for their clients or give broad hints about silence whilst having therapy.

A therapist should always be intuitive enough to read what the client wants and needs. Frankly if they aren’t I don’t believe they can be as effective.

Like you I have given up on therapists, hairdressers etc. when they insist on talking all the time. I find it intrusive and annoying, especially when it often seems self-congratulatory.

Sadly I often get the impression a lot of complementary therapists feel they are superior in some way, which is far from being the case.

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

I have used reflexology since I was a young girl. My Mother had a practitioner come to our house as she had arthritis in her feet. He would manipulate her feet and toes and she always say she felt so much better. I too have it in my feet but also in other parts of my body so I use the techniques in hope that it will relieve the pain. It does seem to help for sure. I also use it to help with head pain relief. I am a strong advocate of it and thank you for highlighting this complementary approach for others to become aware of.

Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 3 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Many thanks for your kind comments, pstraubie48.

It is always useful and very valid to get feedback from people who have used the therapy and found it beneficial.

I must admit in the many years of using and having reflexology I have never found that it does not help people on some level, even if the effect is not always immediate.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America

After a compound fracture of one ankle, reflexology was the treatment that relieved the massive swelling - one session and I could walk without difficulty again.

Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 3 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Yes, Patty … recovery can be that dramatic.

As always with these therapies the sooner the problem is tackled the sooner it responds. The rule seems to be that if you allow a condition to become chronic the longer it takes to mend.

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