Hands performing reflexology on foot

Improve Your Health With Reflexology

Improve Your Health With Reflexology

By Rory Foster, LMT, NBCR

Many people today are turning to the complimentary and integrative healing practice of Reflexology to reduce stress and tension, alleviate pain, and to help with an array of health problems.

Reflexology is a science based on the principle that there are reflex areas in the feet and hands that neurologically correspond to all the glands, organs, and systems of the body.  It is a unique method of compression using the thumb and fingers on reflex areas, thereby improving nerve impulses and lymphatic fluid and blood supply to organs and glands.

Our feet function like a barometer in that they reflect congested or dysfunctional areas of the body.  If there is a problem lurking, the reflexologist can trace it to a sensitive area of the foot and by working the specific reflex stimulates a healing process to the corresponding area in the body. As the human body naturally strives to balance and heal itself, reflexology assists the body in balancing all of its systems.

Throughout the medical profession, doctors agree that the majority of our health problems can be linked to nervous stress and tension. Stressful thoughts and events create feelings that trigger our sympathetic nervous system thereby releasing stress hormones that cause accelerated heart rate and respiration while inhibiting many organ functions. This is our fight or flight response and our healthy biological way of keeping us safe and protected for the short term.  Continual stress over the long term however becomes corrosive and destructive to our organs and nervous system.  Reflexology is important in this respect as it first and foremost relieves stress in the nerves and muscular tension.

This effective, complimentary therapy is also being used more and more for conditions that include hypertension & cardiac disorders, gastro-intestinal conditions, backache & sciatica, respiratory conditions, fatigue, hormone disorders including diabetes, MS, fibromyalgia and neuropathy, plantar fasciitis, carpal-tunnel syndrome, and anxiety & stress.  It is also being used as a beneficial therapy of choice for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

“Researchers at Michigan State University are finding that many women who are receiving chemotherapy while in the late stages of breast cancer are turning to a complementary therapy known as reflexology to help them cope.” (Michigan State University News, http://news.msu.edu/story/319)


Reflexology therapy has helped many chemotherapy cancer patients with nausea while they are undergoing treatment and with post treatment conditions such as Chemo Head, which is described as the inability to concentrate, reduced memory and problems thinking clearly, plus the often accompanying and debilitating discomfort of neuropathy.

Where did reflexology begin?

Though we don’t know for sure where it was first developed and introduced, reflexology as a pressure therapy has been used by many cultures throughout history.  Many believe that it originated in China 5,000 years ago and has a historical link with acupuncture and acupressure.  Others believe that it is older and originated in ancient Babylonian and Egyptian periods.  The oldest proof of reflexology we have was discovered in Egypt.  It is a pictograph dated around 2330 B.C. found in the tomb of the Egyptian physician, Ankmahor, at Saqqara.  It depicts two men working on the feet and hands of two other men.

Research also shows that reflex therapy or practices similar to it existed in Russia, India, Japan, and in ancient Greece until 200 A.D.  In the Western Hemisphere we find evidence of the practice in the Inca and Mayan civilizations.  It is thought that they passed this knowledge to the Native North Americans who for centuries have applied reflex pressure to the feet as a healing practice.  The Bear Clan of the Cherokee Nation in North Carolina have long acknowledged its importance in maintaining physical, mental, and spiritual balance and they continue to practice it today.

Modern Reflexology

Reflex pressure was given the name Reflexology by Eunice Ingham, the “mother of modern reflexology.” Over many years of working on clients she was able to map out areas on the feet that related to the every organ and gland in the body.

Her research was based on the work of Dr. William Fitzgerald, who developed the theory of Zone Therapy.  Fitzgerald divided the body into ten longitudinal zones—5 zones each for the right and left hemispheres—that run from the top of the head to the tips of the toes and fingers.  Each finger and toe falls into one zone.  His theory was that parts of the body found within a designated zone is linked with one another by energy flow within that zone.  So, by pressing reflexes on the foot in zone 2 for instance will have an effect on all of the body parts within that zone.


Ingham further found that congestion and toxins develop and stagnate in the feet due to sand-like crystals that form on nerve endings.  They are deposits of calcium and uric acid and are the culprits for many health problems as they impede normal nerve and blood supply to the parts of the body that correspond to that nerve reflex.

Through reflexology compression these crystals can be broken down and then removed by blood and lymph circulation. She introduced her Ingham Method in the 1930’s.  In 1938, she published a book compiling and explaining her experiences and theories entitled Stories the Feet Can Tell and in 1951, published Stories the Feet Have Told.  Her work continues today through the International Institute of Reflexology in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Dr. Jesus Manzanares, MD in Barcelona, Spain has researched reflexology for over 30 years and has shown through biopsy that sensitivity in a reflex is due to an increased proportion of neural tissue, not crystals.  This causes acute sensitivity in the reflex as a result of congestion/restriction in the corresponding neurological pathway.


Many people are under the assumption that by massaging the feet one is receiving reflexology.  Reflexology is not considered massage by certified reflexologists.  Unless a massage therapist has been specifically trained in this modality, he is not offering authentic reflexology therapy.  Massage is regarded as external—working principally on the musculoskeletal system—whereas reflexology is internal as it works with nerve reflexes that connect internally to the organs, glands, and systems throughout the body.

Where to find a qualified reflexologist

A certified reflexologist will never medically diagnose or prescribe. And not all reflexology practitioners are equally trained and certified.  Many states do not have minimum training and licensing requirements for reflexologists as they do for massage therapists.  Therefore it is important to ask whether the therapist has completed a minimum of 200 hours of formal certification training. Ideally, it is best to look for an ARCB nationally board certified reflexologist with the NBCR designation.

The Reflexology Association of America (www.reflexology-usa.org) and the American Reflexology Certification Board (www.arcb.net) have directories for professional and board certified reflexologists in each state.

Reflexology treatments can be given on the feet or hands but treatment to the feet is recommended, as it is overall more therapeutic. Hand treatments are recommended for conditions such as carpal-tunnel syndrome and in cases where it is not possible or convenient to work on the feet.  Reflexology cannot in any way harm the body.  Most people find that it is as relaxing as having a full body massage. Treatments are given fully clothed either on a massage table or in a zero gravity or lay-z-boy type of recliner.  A 60-minute session is recommended in order to thoroughly work all the reflexes in the feet.  Shorter sessions can be tailored to address specific conditions.