Getting a foot rub feels great – whether it’s part of a total body massage at Soulful Journey or simply a loving touch from our partner. But what about foot reflexology massage – does it really help to relieve pain or health in other parts of the body?
Reflexology is based on the premise that the nerves in your feet, hands and ears correspond to other parts of the body, and that applying pressure to those nerves will relieve symptoms in the corresponding organs, limbs or glands. For example, applying pressure to the big toe could help a headache or to the heel could help digestion.
Reflexology does not hurt, but if you are feeling tension in the area you are trying to relieve, such as the neck, you may feel a slight discomfort in your toe when it is being worked.
There are a number of theories about how reflexology works, including one that says it is simply a placebo, and it works only because the client trusts the therapist. Regardless of which theory you adopt, there is now some research to point to that says it is beneficial.
Research studies indicate that reflexology does have benefits for various conditions, such as reducing pain, enhancing relaxation, reducing psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, however reviewers of the research have noted that the quality of the research is mixed and more high-quality research is needed.
One large review in 2008 (Kunz and Kunz) summarized 168 research studies. They concluded that reflexology may have an impact on specific organs; be associated with amelioration of symptoms (positive changes in kidney function with kidney dialysis patients were noted); create a relaxation effect; and aid in pain reduction (AIDS, chest pain, peripheral neuropathy of diabetes, kidney stones and osteoarthritis).
Other studies (Hudson, 2015) found that patients receiving reflexology prior to varicose vein surgery reported less anxiety and pain. A number of studies showed reduction of pain, nausea, diarrhea or constipation and improved quality of life with reflexology during cancer treatment.
For migraine and tension headaches, research (Testa 2000) showed reflexology was at least as effective as drug therapy. Koc and Gozen (2015) found that infants showed lower heart rates, higher oxygen saturation and shorter crying periods than infants in the control group when they received reflexology treatment for acute pain. Postoperative patients receiving foot and hand reflexology in India (2006) reported a statistically significant decrease in pain and nausea over a control group treated with conventional pain medication.
Reflexology was found to possibly reduce tingling in multiple sclerosis patients, and a small study by Nazari (2015) concluded that it is effective in reducing fatigue in women with MS. In patients with chronic sinusitis, reflexology was found to be equally effective as nasal douching.
The results from reflexology are subtle and cumulative, and you are likely to see greater benefits from regular sessions. If you are dealing with a specific illness or condition, you may need more frequent sessions. A general recommendation is to begin with a session every week for six to eight weeks, then follow those with a tune-up every four weeks.