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Reflexology is a type of massage that involves applying different amounts of pressure to the feet, hands, and ears. It’s based on a theory that these body parts are connected to certain organs and body systems.
In traditional Chinese medicine
Reflexology rests on the ancient Chinese belief in qi (pronounced “chee”), or “vital energy.” According to this belief, qi flows through each person. When a person feels stressed, their body blocks qi.
This can cause an imbalance in the body that leads to illness. Reflexology aims to keep qi flowing through the body, keeping it balanced and disease free.
In Chinese medicine, different body parts correspond with different pressure points on the body. Reflexologists use maps of these points in the feet, hands, and ears to determine where they should apply pressure. They believe their touch sends energy flowing through a person’s body until it reaches the area in need of healing.
In the 1890s, British scientists found that nerves connect the skin and internal organs. They also found that the body’s entire nervous system tends to adjust to outside factors, including touch.
A reflexologist’s touch may help to calm the central nervous system, promoting relaxation and other benefits just like any form of massage.
Others believe that the brain creates pain as a subjective experience. Sometimes, the brain reacts to physical pain. But in other cases, it may create pain in response to emotional or mental distress.
Some believe that reflexology can reduce pain through calming touch, which may help to improve someone’s mood and reduce stress.
Zone theory is another belief that some use to explain how reflexology works. This theory holds that the body contains 10 vertical zones. Each zone contains different body parts and corresponds to specific fingers and toes.
Practitioners of the zone theory believe that touching these fingers and toes allows them to access every body part in a particular zone.
What are the potential benefits of reflexology?
Reflexology is linked to many potential benefits, but only a few of them have been evaluated in scientific studies.
So far, there’s limited evidence that reflexology may help to:
reduce stress and anxiety
improve general well-being
In addition, people have reported that reflexology helped them:
boost their immune system
get over colds and bacterial infections
clear up sinus issues
recover from back problems
correct hormonal imbalances
ease arthritis pain
treat nerve problems and numbness from cancer drugs (peripheral neuropathy)
Is Reflexology safe to try?
Generally, reflexology is very safe, even for people living with serious health conditions. It’s noninvasive and comfortable to receive, so it may be worth trying if it’s something you’re interested in.
However, you should talk to your doctor first if you have any of the following health issues:
circulatory problems in the feet
blood clots or inflammation of your leg veins
fungal infections, like athlete’s foot
open wounds on your hands or feet
a low platelet count or other blood problems, which can make you bruise and bleed more easily
You may still be able to try reflexology if you have any of these issues, but you might need to take a few precautions to avoid any adverse effects.
Is Reflexology safe to try?
If you’re pregnant, make sure to tell your reflexologist before your session, as some pressure points in the hands and feet may induce contractions. If you’re trying to use reflexology to induce labor, only do so with your doctor’s approval. There is a risk of premature delivery, and babies are healthiest if born at 40 weeks of gestation.
Some people also report having mild side effects after reflexology treatment, including:
But these are short-term side effects that tend to go away shortly after treatment.