How does Reflexology Work?

Feet mapNo one is certain exactly how reflexology works, and there are several theories in existence. One is based on our knowledge of nerve impulses. Nerve endings in the feet, hands, face and ears are very near the surface of the body and, therefore, easily accessible for treatment and sensitive to pressure. Nerves carry messages between different body parts and the brain, and those nerves have representatives in the feet, hands, face and ears. It is thought that perhaps the stimulus from reflexology bypasses the normal route of nerve transmission via the brain and instead sends a message direct to the corresponding body part, triggering the body to respond by dealing with any imbalances that it may have 'forgotten' about.

Other theories are based around the flow of energy in the body, similar to the principles used in acupuncture and shiatsu. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is believed that chi (life force or energy) flows around the body through channels called meridians. If the flow of energy around the body is disrupted then ill health will result. Energy may stagnate or meridians become blocked due to painful or traumatic events such as stress, injury or lack of exercise. Several of the meridians that connect to major body organs are found in the feet, so massage and stimulation of the feet helps to stimulate the flow of chi, helping to bring the body back into a state of equilibrium.

Another, simpler, theory is that because reflexology is such a relaxing experience it helps to relieve tension, which allows the body to break the negative stress cycle, enabling the nervous system to function normally and encouraging the body to return to a state of equilibrium. Allowing the body to truly rest, even for a short period of time is believed to be key in helping to alleviate and prevent illnesses.

However reflexology works, it is essentially about helping a client to achieve a balance of mind, body and spirit through deep relaxation, stimulation of blood and lymph flow, improved circulation, improved well-being and improved psychological health.

An increasing number of clinical trials are being carried out around the world, shedding light on how and why reflexology works. One study in Japan for example has shown through MRI scanning that there is a direct relationship between cortical activity and reflex areas in the feet as used in reflexology. This is an exciting conformation that reflexology works, even if the exact mechanisms are yet to be identified! A summary of the study can be viewed here



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