Reflexology is the practice of applying pressure to, and massaging certain areas of the feet, hands and ears. The aim is to encourage healing and relieve stress and tension. It is also used to improve general health and well-being.
Reflexology treatment is based on the principle that certain areas of the feet - called reflexes - are linked to other areas on the body through the nervous system. The arrangement of the reflexes has a direct relationship to the area of the body they affect. For example, the right side of the foot is linked to the right side of the body. While the tips of the toes correspond to the head. The liver, pancreas and kidneys connect to the arch of the foot, and the lower back and intestines towards the heel.
In a session, a reflexologist will apply pressure to certain reflexes. The aim is to stimulate energy flow and send signals around the body - targeting areas of tension and pain.
This page will explore reflexology therapy in more detail. It will highlight the uses of reflexology, the role of a reflexologist and what to expect from a session.
On this page
- How does reflexology work?
- What can reflexology do for you?
- What to expect from a session
- What to do after a session
How does reflexology work?
As mentioned before, reflexology treatment aims to holistically restore balance to the body. This is done by applying pressure to certain points of the hands, feet and ears. Reflexologists don’t claim to prescribe, diagnose or cure. They aim to offer a tailored, alternate means of healing to address each individual’s specific needs.
Emotional and physical factors are taken into account if the reflexologist thinks they might be affecting a person's well-being and health. They will pinpoint areas on the feet where they can use specific hand movements, thumb techniques and apply pressure to stimulate healing energy. This energy flows through the body's energetic pathways to the targeted areas of the body.
Studies show that people generally report positive experiences following treatment. Many feel that reflexology promotes reduced levels of tension and anxiety. Some have even claimed an improvement in physical symptoms. However, this does tend to vary between individuals.
What can reflexology do for you?
Reflexology is a popular alternative therapy that is considered to have a range of uses. Some of the most common uses of reflexology include:
- Stress reduction - Studies suggest that reflexology can aid in alleviating the negative effects of stress.
- Relaxation - The therapy encourages the body and mind to enter a deeply relaxed state.
- Soothing tired feet - The techniques and special hand movements can help to ease tension and pain in the feet.
- Reducing pain - Research suggests that the therapy is an effective pain reliever.
- Improving circulation - Reflexology helps break down deposits in the blood stream which can affect circulation.
- Enhancing overall well-being - Many people use the therapy on a regular basis to support a healthy mind and body.
Many people also find reflexology helpful in reducing stress-related ailments, including:
- Tension headaches - The application of strokes over certain points on the foot by the big toe are thought to help ease tension headaches.
- Arthritis - Reflexologists may work on specific points on the hands and feet to help with arthritis pain.
- Digestive disorders - Reflex points for the digestive system are located on the plantar surface of the feet. Reflexologists will focus on these areas to relieve digestive discomfort and ease stress.
- Insomnia - Reflexology can be soothing. The thumb and finger movements over certain reflexes help to target hormonal imbalances that can disrupt sleep.
- Menstrual problems - Many women find the therapy useful for addressing common menstrual problems. These include severe pain, irregular cycles and general discomfort.
- Back pain - Pressure on certain reflex points is thought to alleviate nerve problems in the back which can cause pain.
- Sports injuries - Reflexology boosts the body's healing ability. It stimulates blood and nerve flow to an injured muscle or tissue.
Modern life is increasingly demanding and stressful. Reflexology can be effective in helping to relieve daily stresses and maintain good health and well-being. Remember that reflexology is a complementary therapy and therefore should be used in tandem with medical care. Please consult your doctor first if you are experiencing any of the above ailments.
Uses of reflexology also extend to post-operative or palliative care. It is a popular therapy among cancer patients who find it helpful for relaxation. For many patients undergoing intensive medical treatment, reflexology can help to boost emotional well-being.
What to expect from a session
Reflexology therapy sessions are fairly straightforward and uncomplicated. A typical treatment lasts around 45 minutes to an hour and begins with a consultation about your health and lifestyle. Your reflexologist will discuss your medical history to establish any underlying health problems. They will also ask what you wish to gain from reflexology therapy.
You will then be required to remove your shoes and socks before being seated comfortably in a reclining chair or on a massage table. Your reflexologist will carry out an initial examination of the feet before commencing treatment. They will begin by warming up the feet by applying pressure from the toes to the heel according to your comfort. Firm thumb and hand movements will then be used to identify areas of tenderness or tension.
Reflexology is not painful, however certain areas of the feet may feel more tender than others. This will depend on what area of the body they correspond with. Sensitivity will vary from person to person, and a reflexologist will adjust the amount of pressure applied accordingly. After a session your feet will feel warm and you should experience a general feeling of calm and relaxation. You may even feel sleepy.
The number of reflexology sessions you'll need will depend on the condition being treated. Your reflexologist will be able to discuss this with you and devise a treatment plan.
You may experience the relaxing effects of reflexology after just one session. It may take longer to notice benefits in other parts of the body. Many people find their sleeping and moods improve over the course of a few sessions. This will, however, differ between individuals.
What to do after a session
To gain the full benefits of reflexology, it is recommended to carry out the following advice 24 hours post-treatment:
- Drink lots of water. This will hydrate the body, improve energy levels and flush out toxins.
- Avoid strenuous exercise and rest for at least two hours after the treatment.
- Avoid stimulants such as alcohol, tea and coffee. These can diminish the effectiveness of the treatment.
- Stick to a light, healthy diet to enable your body to heal.
- Note down any reactions you have for your next session.
How often should you have treatment?
If you seek reflexology to help with a specific condition and want to feel the full benefits of the treatment, then a course of regular sessions is advised. You will receive a treatment plan after your first session if you do want to continue. Your state of health, age, the nature of your condition and how long you have had it are all taken into consideration.
Misconceptions about reflexology
There are a few misconceptions about reflexology that can misrepresent the treatment. Below we provide the truths to some common misconceptions:
It is no different to a foot massage
Although reflexology therapy involves massage techniques, it is not specifically a massage therapy. Foot massage is similar to Swedish massage. This involves the use of massage oil or lotion, which a massage therapist will apply to the foot using a combination of gliding strokes. The aim is to work on soft tissue to promote healing in the area of concern. Massage is a direct modality.
Reflexology on the other hand is a systematic foot therapy. It involves the stimulation of specific reflex points on the feet. These correspond to other parts of the body. A reflexologist will use their knowledge of the reflexology foot map to guide their hand movements. Reflexology is an indirect modality.
It is ticklish
Many people think reflexology therapy is ticklish, especially as feet can be quite sensitive. This is not the case. A reflexologist will hold the feet in a firm, confident manner, knowing the right amount of pressure to apply. Reflexology involves deep, concise hand movements, thumb hooking and pin-pointing techniques. It is not designed to feel ticklish.
It isn’t suitable for everyone
As it is a non-invasive complementary therapy, reflexology is suitable for anyone, of any age. It is however recommended that women avoid the treatment within the first three months of pregnancy. There is specific maternity reflexology therapy available for those who wish to continue the therapy while pregnant.
It is diagnostic
Reflexology is not medical, therefore a reflexologist cannot diagnose conditions or problems. The therapy works with the holistic principle that the body functions in a natural way. Imbalances within the body are thought to lead to ailments and physical problems. A reflexologist will look to restore the body's natural rhythm and thus restore its ability to heal.
It is painful
Reflexology treatment is not designed to be painful - it’s meant to induce deep relaxation. There may however, be reflexes that are more tender than others. According to the discipline, this is due to congestion in the energetic pathway in the body. Once treated, the blockages are removed, enabling the energy to resume its natural flow.
Choosing a reflexologist
There are a number of different training pathways available for reflexologists, each representing a certain level of experience and standard. Before booking an appointment, you can ask the reflexologist:
- How long have you practised for?
- What organisation did you train with?
- Have you treated someone with the same condition?
- Have you taken part in any continued professional development?
- Do you have insurance?
- What do you charge?
- How long will the treatment last?
- Is the service you offer mobile (can you do the treatment somewhere other than the treatment room)?
- Do you have a cancellation policy?
What training and qualifications do reflexologists need?
Reflexology is just one of the many alternative therapies currently unregulated in the UK. This means that there are no laws stating and detailing the qualifications and level of experience someone must have in order to practice as a reflexologist.
Despite this, there are a number of professional associations that have been set up as voluntary regulators. Practitioners can choose to register with these and become accredited. Generally, each association will have set a benchmark for a minimum level of training needed in order to join. Potential members also need to agree to adhere to a specific code of ethics and complaints procedure. Continued professional development (CPD) may also be a requirement of membership.
All reflexologists listed on Therapy Directory have the relevant qualifications and insurance or are members of a voluntary regulator.
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