What is Reflexology?

“Many clients coming for reflexology have only recently heard about it, “says Colin Costa a professional reflexologist at Allyu, a Chicago’s award-winning spa. “They are curious and want to give it a try.”

Reflexology as a process may be new to many, but the procedure is not exactly a recent innovation. Reflexology became popular in America in the 20th century, while similar treatments have been traced as far back as Ancient Egypt. So, what is reflexology, how does it work?

What is Reflexology?

Reflexology also called zone therapy is an alternative medicine which involves a bodywork technique that uses pressure points applied to the feet and hand to stimulate organs and systems in the body of an individual. 

Reflexology has been shown to treat a wide range of ailments by manipulating pressure points. It shares the same ideology with many other forms of eastern medicine and alternative medicine, such as acupuncture and craniosacral therapy; It triggers the clearing of blockages in the flow of the body’s life force known as Qi, and healing follows. 

According to the Australian Government’s Department of Health, it is a system of applying pressure to the feet, which reflexology practitioners believe trigger energy releases which clear blockages in certain areas that cause illness or pain. 

Reflexology is an alternative health therapy

How Does Reflexology Work?

Many researchers have explained how reflexology works, but the common consensus remains that certain areas on foot correspond to areas on the body, and the manipulation of these points can improve wellbeing through one’s Qi.

There are four basic theories about how reflexology works and why.

The Central Nervous System Adaption Theory

This theory is based on a discovery made by Sir Henry Head and Sir Charles Sherrington in the late 19th century. These researchers found a relationship between bodily organs and the skin as well as external stimuli like a massage. They reported that the stimulation and connection of these body parts can bring about a healing effect on the nervous system.

The gate control theory

The second theory is concerned about how reflexology can soothe the pain. It suggests that reflexology and massage reduce stress, bring happiness, thus help relieve pain, as pain is created in the brain. 

The Vital Energy Theory

This theory is based on the ideology of the yin and yang. It postulates that stress impedes the flow of vital energy in your body. Reflexology, therefore, helps reinvigorate energy flow.

The zone theory

This theory is based on the idea that the hands and feet have their own reflex zones. These zones correspond to parts of the body, organs, and systems.


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What can reflexology treat?

According to research by Dr. Kevin and Dr. Barbara Kunz, in which 78 health disorders and 168 studies were evaluated, reflexology helps people in four main ways:

• Creates a relaxation effect

• Has an impact on organs

• Improves symptoms.

• Reduces pain.

Other benefits include:

1. Improved Nerve Function

As humans age, nerve endings become less sensitive in many parts of the body, especially those localized in our extremities. Reflexology has been shown to stimulate over 7,000 different nerve endings in a single session, this leads to an improvement in function and flexibility. 

The opening and clearing of the neural pathways help improve its functionality and flexibility in different parts of the body. Human neural pathways are like muscles; you need to work them once in a while to keep them active. 

2. Boost Energy Levels

In a study published in the European Journal of General practice, the alignment of various organs and muscles systems by reflexology can bring about a boost in energy creation and the metabolism process in the body. If you need an energy thrust, a reflexology session will help put some spring into your step!

3. Increase circulation

One key benefit of reflexology is the improvement in circulation throughout the body, this means the efficient distribution of oxygen and blood. Oxygen gets to the vital organs, invigorating, and optimizing their functions, which leads to increased metabolism. This brings about the re-growth of damaged cells and faster healing.   

4. Relaxation 

As earlier discussed, reflexology opens neural pathways, this free-flowing neural activity calms the body. Therefore, reflexology will flood your system with relaxation, bringing about a state of calmness to your body and mind. For this reason, reflexology is used to cure sleep disorders such as insomnia. Reflexology will help your body relax and bring back a healthy and balanced circadian rhythm.

5. Elimination of Toxins

Studies have shown reflexology help to reduce urinary tract issues and improve bladder function. This provides a more efficient way to eliminate toxins and other foreign substances. This helps protect the body from diseases and many health conditions that can be triggered by a compromised urinary system.  

6. Nervous System Stimulation

Reflexology opens the neural pathways which benefit the central nervous system in many ways. Apart from enhancing the brain’s ability to handle stress effectively, boosting cognitive powers, it also boosts memory.

7. Reduction in Headaches

In a study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 55% of the patients experienced relief in headache symptoms, 23% reported no further occurrence, while 11% stopped their medication altogether. Reflexology is used mainly by many people to eliminate pain. As an analgesic, it reduces the severity of headache and migraine, by relieving tension in the muscles that cause these conditions. 

8. Speed Healing

Reflexology brings about increased circulation and nerve activity, as well as boost metabolism. This brings about regeneration of cells and helps wound heal quickly. The pain-relieving ability of reflexology also helps patients recover quickly and get reintegrated into their routine life. 

Reflexology is similar to massage
What is reflexology?

What to expect A Visit to A Practitioner of Reflexology

A reflexology session runs anywhere from thirty to sixty minutes. The client will be required to remove his socks and shoes and made comfortable either by sitting or resting in a reclining position.

At the beginning of some sessions, the reflexologist may offer a foot bath; however, no lotion or oil will be used. The pressure is applied in a thumb-and-finger “walking” patterns, which results in gentle stretching and massaging of the specific part of the feet and hands that corresponds to a particular body organ. The practitioner may discuss simple self-care instructions at the end of the session.

Is reflexology for everybody?

The Australia Reflexology Certification Board Study Guide (2015) has listed situations where reflexology should not be used. They include:

• Early stages of induced labor until deemed fit by a physician

• After an organ transplant until deemed fit by a physician

• Lacerations, open wounds, and sores on the feet that are oozing fluids

• Contagious or infectious diseases on the client’s feet

• Current fractures, gout, severe sprains, recent surgeries around the problem areas

• Severe edema

• Varicose veins


Reflexology may not yet be a scientifically proven medical treatment for ailments, but there are supporting studies that suggest it is an effective complementary treatment, especially for anxiety, stress, headache, toxin elimination and many more.


Embong, N. H., Soh, Y. C., Ming, L. C., & Wong, T. W. (2015). Revisiting reflexology: Concept, evidence, current practice, and practitioner training. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine, 5(4), 197–206. doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2015.08.008

Baggoley C (2015). “Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Natural Therapies for Private Health Insurance” (PDF). Australian Government – Department of Health. Lay summary – Gavura, S. Australian review finds no benefit to 17 natural therapies. Science-Based Medicine. (19 November 2015).

Edzard, E. and Kerstin, K. (1997). An overview of reflexology, European Journal of General Practice, 3:2, 52-57, DOI: 10.3109/13814789709160323

Peter, A. M., Katie, B., Valerie, F.H., Ann-Louise, C. (2009). Reflexology and progressive muscle relaxation training for people with multiple sclerosis: A crossover trial. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice Volume 15, Issue 1, February 2009, Pages 14-21

Barrett, Stephen (2004-09-25). “Reflexology: A close look.” Quackwatch. Retrieved 2019-2-5.

Gantt, W.H. Conditional Reflex (1966) 1: 57. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03001086

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