How Reflexology Works

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How Reflexology Works
How Reflexology Works. Photo © adrenalinapura – (under license)

Reflexology is one of the most popular alternative therapies used for a variety of conditions – from back pain to stomach disorders. Reflexology practitioners (aptly named reflexologists) believe that by applying pressure to certain areas of the foot or hand, it can promote healing and homeostasis. [1] History shows that reflexology was used in Egypt hundreds of years ago, during the time of the pharaohs, and is still being used today as part of CAM or complementary and alternative medicine.

Why The Foot Or Hand?

While reflexology typically refers to the foot, hand reflexology is also slowly gaining popularity. Reflexology operates on the concept that the soles of the feet and the palms of the hand are divided into areas that correspond to other areas of the body – like the heart, lungs, and other organs. By applying pressure to these areas, reflexologists believe it can cause changes in those organs and systems. [2] Similarly, disease or damage to certain areas of the body would manifest as changes in the hands or feet.

The Power Of Touch

More research still has to be done to make the mechanism of reflexology clear, and for this reason it is considered pseudoscientific by some orthodox practitioners. However, a number of studies have shown how effective it can be. [1] One of the important components is actually the therapeutic effect of touch. [3] Skin–to-skin contact has been shown to promote comfort and decrease stress, which can cause improvement in symptoms of insomnia, pain, and discomfort.

Impulses From The Feet

The feet are very sensitive to touch and pressure, meaning the massage in reflexology easily stimulates the nerve endings in the feet. The nerve endings are less than a millimeter under the skin, and though objectively measuring the impulses generated by touching is difficult, experiments by Asamura suggest high possibility that they can be recorded in the future. [3] Because of these generated impulses that travel through the body to affected areas, it could be said that reflexology has a measurable therapeutic effect.

A complimentary theory on how Reflexology works deals with an exchange of energy between the reflexologist and the patient, called “sympathetic resonance”, which opens “blocked” energy channels in the sick person, promoting wellness. [3]

Reflexology And Pain

By far, the most studies on reflexology are on its effects on pain. In 2003, reflexology was used on cancer patients experiencing metastasis. The results of the study revealed significantly reduced pain levels, immediately within 24 hours after reflexology was performed. [4] A more recent study in 2014 was published by Cardiff Metropolitan University, where reflexology was used to treat lower back pain and showed positive results. [5]

Numerous people have testified to the ability for reflexology to ease headaches. This technique is simple and the method that has been used is to pinch and massage the muscular area between thumb and forefinger. It really does seem to work and it’s time this was evaluated with a scientific study.

A lot of work still has to be done on reflexology claims of being able (for example) to promote blood flow to certain organs, [2] when it comes to pain and stress, a lot of medical studies do support its therapeutic claims. Reflexology might be something to consider the next time you have back pain (or another similar condition)!


[1] Poole, H., et. al. (2007). A randomized controlled study of reflexology for the management of chronic low back pain.…/

[2] Jones, J., et. al. (2013). Is There a Specific Hemodynamic Effect in Reflexology? A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.…/

[3] Tiran, D. & Chummun, H. (2005). The physiological basis of reflexology and its use as a potential diagnostic tool.…/

[4] Stephenson, N., et. al. (2003). The Effect of Foot Reflexology on Pain in Patients with Metastatic Cancer.

[5] Garman, H. (2014). The effect of reflexology on lower back pain in cyclists.

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2 thoughts on “How Reflexology Works

  1. Really enjoy reading as many of your articles as I can! I love researching herbs and natural healing and it’s so easy now with your info. The reflexology piece was especially helpful. I’m sure it can help my daughter. Thanks for all the beneficial facts about things I find interesting.

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