What do your feet and hands have in common? In the world of the reflexologist, gentle stimulation of these body bits can improve your general health and welfare. We get to grips with the facts.
What is it?
Reflexology is a complementary therapy based on the belief that your feet and hands are linked to the function of vital organs in the body. There are several theories that seek to explain this. One suggests that the connecting force is a flow of natural energy called qi (pronounced 'chee'). According to the reflexologist, when blockages occur in this flow, ill health occurs. As blockages most commonly occur in the hands and feet, they believe that careful manipulation can get things moving once more and help restore balance to your health and welfare.
Another theory suggests that the central nervous system plays an important role. This is because application of pressure to the feet and hands sends signals through it to the brain. Reflexologists who buy into this theory aim to influence such signals and encourage the brain to make necessary adjustments to the body's vital organs.
How does it work?
Expect a single session of reflexology to last between 30 minutes and an hour. To begin, your reflexologist will consult you about your medical history, as well as your expectations for the session. They may refer to notes supplied by your doctor, or ask you to fill in a questionnaire.
Next, you'll be asked to remove your shoes and socks and be invited to lie on a table or sit in a chair. Depending on the nature of your illness or complaint, the reflexologist will apply stretching, pressure and movement exercises to your feet/hands. People who have experience of reflexology report feeling very relaxed for a period of time afterwards.
Some of it is what you'd expect from a normal massage, such as strokes and gentle rubbing of the foot in different ways, but she also used pressure techniques on both my feet and ankles.
What are the benefits?
Reflexology is not intended as a subsitute for conventional medical treatment, but for use alongside it. People often report that a reflexology session leaves them feeling relaxed. This is because manipulation of the hands and feet is likely to release endorphins - the body's natural painkiller - which means it can be effective as a means of stress relief. Others claim it can improve circulation, strengthen the immune system, ease migraine and backpain problems as well as sleep and digestive disorders.
Where's the proof?
Many people claim that reflexology has a beneficial effect on their health and wellbeing. For example, it's a popular complementary treatment for cancer patients as it can help them to relax and feel revitalised. Research is ongoing, but to date there is no scientific evidence to fully support its effectiveness.
NHS reflexology is now available, in a limited capacity, while private treatment can begin from £35 per session. Talk to your doctor (GP) about NHS treatment, or ask them to recommend a private reflexologist in your area. Alternatively, check out the The British Reflexology Association for a nationwide directory of practitioners.
Case study - Lucy 19
The treatment I received consisted of me lying on a couch (like in doctor's surgery), with the reflexologist at my feet. She took my details, including information about my lifestyle and my health in the past and present, before explaining about the treatment I would receive. Then I was told to relax while I had my feet massaged. Some of it is what you'd expect from a normal massage, such as strokes and gentle rubbing of the foot in different ways, but she also used pressure techniques on both my feet and ankles. It was very gentle and comfortable and not at all ticklish. I would certainly recommend it to others and would love to have some more in the future.
If you're considering a complementary treatment or therapy for any medical condition, always consult your doctor (GP) first. This is to make sure it doesn't conflict with any existing course of treatment you may be taking, and also to check it won't have a negative impact on your health.
Read the comment policy
Use our free question and answer service and speak to an expert!