Reflexology is the theory
that the human body can be healed from disease or imbalance through pressure
to specific points on the hands, feet, and ears (http://www.doubleclickd.com/reflexology.html).
This alternative form of healing is doubted by many, although there are
studies that support its theory.
History of Reflexology
Reflexology is an ancient method of healing that originated in Egypt and the Orient. More than four thousand years ago, man discovered this treatment for imbalance, and recorded their discovery in drawings on cave walls. It is suggested that reflexology evolved from acupuncture and acupressure. Reflexology flourished in the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century, but did not appear in the United States until the early 1900's (http://lagunabeachca.com/reflexol.htm).
Zone Theory Behind Reflexology
According to reflexologists, stress, fatigue, illness, toxins, and inactivity are harmful influences on the body that can be healed through reflexology treatment. Reflexologists believe that the body can be divided into ten zones, five on each half of the body. In each zone, impulses and reflexes travel until they reach nerve endings in the feet and the hands. These zones are believed to be meridians along which energy flows. Placing pressure on the nerve endings in the hands and the feet will effect the organs found in that particular zone (http://www.reflexology.org/aor/refinfo/healart.htm). As well as longitudinal zones throughout the body, there are also cross-reflex points. These cross-reflex points are corresponding points on the opposite side of the body which can be useful in administering reflexology treatment when pressure is not able to be placed on the reflex point.
Physiotherapist Eunice Ingham spent many years researching which part of the hand, foot, and ear corresponds with which part of the body. Ingham began searching for specific parts of the feet that, when properly manipulated, had a positive effect on another part of the body. Only through trial and error did she find universal locations on the feet that effect all patients in the same way. She finally created a map of the feet, showing a reflexology chart (http://www.lagunabeachca.com/reflexol.htm). The chart specifically diagrams each area of the foot and its corresponding part of the body (http://happyfeet.com/kenkoh/reflx.html).
Cleaning the Blood through Reflexology
There are many theories as to the effectiveness of reflexology. According to their theory, toxins create congestion in the bloodstream. The congestion prohibits the cleansing of the blood and causes deposits of waste to form. These deposits build up and settle at the lowest point of blood flow, the feet. Over time, the waste products build and harden, taking away all energy from the liquid flow of the circulatory system. One other system in the body, the nervous system, gives energy. As the build-up increases in the feet, it puts pressure on the thousands of nerve endings that collect in the feet. This causes poorer communication throughout the body (http://lagunabeachca.com/reflexol.htm) Breaking up calcified deposits that have settled in the feet and hands, increases blood flow. Increased circulation allows the blood to carry the toxins in the body to areas in which they may be eliminated. In the opinion of the reflexologists, to flush the bloodstream of toxins restores the body to its healthy balance and increases the level of energy. (http://presentmoment.com/pm/articles/enhance/reflex.html)
Studies done on the effects of massage, including
reflexology, show that the lymph system can be cleaned through massage.
Ena Kirkness is a manual lymph drainage (MLD) therapist at the Edinburgh
Holistic Health Care Centre, who studied the effects of massage on the
lymph system. She is a trained reflexologist, and believes that massage,
specifically MLD, is helpful in treating problems such as colds, flu, migraines,
skin problems, and many other illnesses. Ms. Kirkness believes that
MLD "causes body fluid to flow, lymph and venous blood to flow, removes
waste products from connective tissue,...and relieves congestion."
An article in Nursing Times claimed that reflexology is able to
restore balance to the body, restore circulation problems, and clear any
toxins. With the body returned to its natural balance, it will be
capable of healing itself.
The Healing Touch of Reflexology
Many reflexologists believe that the human contact which takes place in reflexology can act as a healing force. A study done in three West London nursing homes tested the effects of aromatherapy, reflexology, and reiki. The subjects were elderly patients suffering form arthritis, depression, insomnia and wandering, skin conditions, and stiffness. After four weeks with these three treatments, the patients and staff noted a remarkable recovery of symptoms. According to the conductor of the study, Dr. Sidney Jones, "interpersonal interaction provided by the therapies 'is of the highest importance' in the well-being of older people, who are often vulnerable." Because elderly people in nursing homes sometimes see no one but the nurses each day, this type of human attention has such a positive affect.
After conducting a number of studies as an acupressure theorist, Jan Maxwell concluded that the energy flowing from a healer's body to the patient allows the injured body to balance through increased circulation and decreased muscle tension. She has noted that this type of treatment demonstrates "a type of caring that can't be communicated by mere words." Although some patients are effected little by reflexology treatment due to their own level of discomfort with the treatment or because of the care giver's level of discomfort with the treatment.
The Relaxation of Reflexology
A third theory suggests that reflexology is an effective means of healing the body by relieving stress and tension. A buildup of stress in a person's life be a negative effect on their health. By reducing this stress, the body is put at less of a risk of disease. Reflexologists claim that after each treatment, the patient is left with a relaxed state of mind, allowing clear thinking, a feeling of contentment, increased creativity, and physical agility (http://www.holistic.com/essays/newcon08.htm).A study of the effects of hand massage and therapeutic touch on Alzheimer's patients in three Alzheimer care units. The purpose of the study was to find out if reflexology on the hand and therapeutic touch would reduce agitation of the patients. Alzheimer patients suffer from disruptive behavior such as screaming, hitting, grabbing, physical resistance, and sentence repeating. The staff recorded incidence of agitation in their patients for five days before beginning the hand massage, and then the frequency and intensity of agitation each day for ten says while administering hand massage. There was a significant reduction in frequency and intensity of agitation in the patients during the ten days that the massage was being administered.
Additional research to prove the effectiveness of relaxation through reflexology can be found in a randomized controlled study of thirty-five women with severe premenstrual symptoms. The study sought to the results of ear, hand, and foot reflexology on these premenstrual symptoms. The women began by recording the severity of nineteen different symptoms daily for the seven days prior to menstruation. They recorded the symptoms from two cycles before beginning reflexology treatment. The women were then divided randomly into two groups, one receiving reflexology and the other receiving placebo reflexology. The daily diary was kept recording the same nineteen symptoms while the patients received thirty minutes a week of treatment for eight weeks. The women continued to record their premenstrual symptoms for two months after the treatment ended. The results showed that the group who was given true reflexology had a greater decrease in symptoms than the group given the placebo reflexology. The decrease in symptoms continued during the two recorded months after treatment ceased. It was concluded that the main reason that the reflexology affected the women was because it reduced stress, which worsens premenstrual symptoms, and caused relaxation. The symptoms were still decreased after treatment ended because "the brain mechanisms related to the reflexology micro-systems can be altered permanently by the treatment."
Actual Effectiveness of Reflexology
The effectiveness of reflexology treatment is not definite, although there is evidence that supports its practice. Practicing reflexologists, obviously, make many claims about their trade, and advertise the advantages of reflexology as a method of reducing stress, pain, and illness. Several medical studies show that reflexology aids reduction of premenstrual symptoms, agitation in Alzheimer patients, and many minor illnesses. The studies do not conclude whether the cause of the improvement is due to increased relaxation, a clearing of the fluids in the body, or the benefit of personal interaction. There are reasons to support all three of these theories. One conclusion that the majority of the studies reached is that reflexology should be used in addition to modern medical care, such as surgical procedure or medication. There are claims, although no documented evidence, that reflexology treatment after surgery shortens a patient's recovery time, requiring less hospitalization and making more hospital beds available (http://www.reflexology.org/aor/refinfo/adv9701.htm). Reflexology is best used as an aid to modern treatment.
Booth, B. (1994). Reflexology. Nursing Times, 90, 38-40.
Maxwell, J. (1997). The Gentle Power of Acupressure. RN, 60, 53-56.
Nickalls, S. (1996). Fluid Forces. Nursing Times, 92, 52.
Oleson, T. & Flocco, W. (1993). Randomized Controlled Study
of Premenstrual Symptoms Treated with Ear,
Hand, and Foot Reflexology. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 82, 906-911.
Snyder, M., Egan, E., & Burns, K. R. (1995). Efficacy of Hand
Massage in Decreasing Agitation Behaviors
Associated with Care Activities in Persons with Dementia. Geriatric Nursing, 16, 60-63.
Taylor, A. (1995). Back in Touch. Nursing Times, 91, 18.
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