Reflexology involves applying pressure to and massaging certain areas of the feet, hands and ears. Its aim is to encourage healing and relieve stress and tension. This approach is based on the principle that certain areas of the feet - called reflexes - are linked to other areas of 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.

Here we'll explore reflexology in more detail, highlight the uses of reflexology, the role of a reflexologist and what to expect from a session.

How does reflexology work?

Reflexology 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. They will pinpoint areas on the feet where they can apply pressure to stimulate healing energy. This energy flows through the body's energetic pathways to the targeted areas of the body.

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How can reflexology help?

Reflexology is a popular and versatile alternative therapy. Some of the most common uses of reflexology include:

  • Stress reduction - Reflexology can help reduce the negative effects of stress.
  • 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 bloodstream 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/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 people 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. 

The Association of Reflexology explains reflexology in this video.

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 alongside 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 reflexology session

A typical reflexology session lasts around 45 minutes to an hour and starts 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.

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 starting. They will start 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.

During the treatment, I’m so relaxed. I have actually fallen asleep many times and I almost feel I’m floating or in a trance-like state, completely at ease with myself and my surroundings. It allows me to accept the symptoms I struggle with, acknowledge why they are there but also trust that my body will eventually heal itself.

- Read Katie's experience of reflexology.

What to do after a reflexology 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 light, nutritious foods after to help your body to heal.
  • Note down any reactions you have for your next session.

Reflexology FAQs

There are a few misconceptions about reflexology that can misrepresent the treatment. Below we provide some answers to frequently asked questions:

Is reflexology the same as 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. Massage is a direct modality.

Reflexology, on the other hand, is a systematic therapy. It involves the stimulation of specific reflex points on the feet and hands. These correspond to other parts of the body. A reflexologist will use their knowledge of the reflexology map to guide their hand movements. Reflexology is therefore considered an indirect modality.

Is reflexology suitable for ticklish people?

Some people worry they're too ticklish for this therapy, 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.  

Is reflexology 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.

Can reflexologists diagnose? 

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.

Is reflexology 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.

How often should you have reflexology?

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 health, age and what you're struggling with are all taken into consideration.

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 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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