I know what you’re thinking? How could a massage therapist make a claim that reflexology doesn’t actually work? Easy. Everything you’re about to read is the honest truth!
I took a reflexology class at Seacoast Career Schools when I was studying massage therapy. I had to. The instructor handed out printed maps of the foot. Each of us collectively stared at our handout, then up at the wall where a poster map of the foot hung. Immediately, we noticed a few inconsistencies between the two.
“Why are they different?” Taylor, my classmate asked.
“There are many different maps of the foot,” the instructor answered.
“So, which one is correct?” Taylor asked, as confused as the rest of us.
The instructor shrugged his shoulders – caught totally off guard – and answered “Whichever one you believe in.”
I could totally end this blog here. That’s all you need to know about how the people who practice reflexology think. I’m not going to end this blog here. I’m going to give you an in-depth explanation on the theory of reflexology, the studies behind it, and its history.
As with my post on reiki, I feel the need to assert that this is article is not meant to trash talk or talk down to anyone who practices reflexology or believes in its effects. It is only meant as an alternate view on a bodywork that many people believe in when they’re only getting half the story. This is the other half of the story, and it is up to you to decide what you believe.
The Theory of Reflexology
So what is reflexology? It is the idea that your feet, hands, and (more recently) even your ears have maps to your body. There is even a notion that women may have a different map than do men. The theory is that applying pressure to a certain part of the foot, hand, or ear will send healing energy through channels in your body to a certain body part. The most common vessel used in reflexology is the foot, so for the rest of the article I will only talk about the foot, but you should know that everything I mention about the foot also applies to the hands and ears.
The spots on your feet are called reflex points. Each reflex point corresponds to an organ in the body. Reflexologists claim that applying and holing appropriate pressure to these points can have a healing effect on the area of the body that they correspond to. Reflexology is often used as a complimentary treatment for sinus issues, kidney and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, and headaches, among other illnesses.
Reflexologists believe that they can help heal people through energy channels in the body that connect to a specific part of the foot and extend to an area of the body. It is thought that there are ten zones in the body, connecting to every nerve ending in the body. Likewise, it is thought that an illness in a certain area of the body can cause a blockage in the part of the foot corresponding to that body part. Reflexologists claim to be able to identify illness in the body, just by feeling it in the patient’s foot. It is important that you understand that nobody but a doctor can diagnose a pathology in your body, and feeling a blockage in your foot is not sufficient evidence that an illness is present. In fact, it is illegal for anyone who does not practice medicine to diagnose another person.
The biggest proponent that you, as the potential recipient, should be aware of is that no formal training is required to practice reflexology. There are no educational credentials required to call oneself a reflexologist, and the practice is not regulated. There are courses that can be taken, but literally anybody can practice reflexology.
How Does The Theory Hold Up?
There is no anatomical evidence of channels that run throughout your body, or that applying pressure to an area of the foot can provide anything other than a weaker benefit than what you might get from a full body massage.
There have been studies into the benefits of reflexology, but controlled clinical trials are few. Most studies on reflexology rely on recipient feedback. People report reduced symptoms after receiving reflexology. This can largely be attributed to placebo effect. It’s kind of like giving someone non-alcoholic beer, and not telling them it’s non-alcoholic. Soon, they will begin to “feel” drunk, even though no alcohol was consumed. It is important to recognize that the power of suggestion is strong.
In fact, Penn and Teller did a little experiment on the fourth episode of the first season of their show “Bullshit!” In this episode, they explored different alternative medicines. Their experiment involved an actor posing as a doctor at a mall and asking people to try different new healing inventions, including a chiropractic coat that provided adjustments by Velcroing weights to them, and a “Mucus Facial” that involved allowing snails to roam over your face.
People were willing to try these new medicines, and even reported feeling better, even though the benefits had been completely made up. Does that make these people stupid? No, of course not. We are willing to believe things that people tell us, if we perceive this person to be more knowledgeable on a specific subject than we are ourselves. So we believe what our massage therapist says when she tells us that we would benefit from reflexology.
Like I said about practitioners of reiki, I do not believe that people who practice reflexology are scam artists. I think that they truly believe that what they are doing is helping their clients. However, I do find it incredibly irresponsible for reflexologists to claim that they can heal when there is actually insufficient scientific evidence behind that it provides you with anything other than a good foot rub.
Your health is the most important part of you, so don’t just take my word for it. There are many forms of complimentary health care, and I strongly suggest that you do your research before committing to any of them, including massage. Some forms of complimentary care are amazing, and some are not. I strongly suggest you ask questions. It’s your health after all!
Bodyworks That Don’t Work Series