Overview Many of us find ourselves on our feet all day. Whether you’re a stay at home mum, work in an office, a factory, outdoors, or anything in between, there is a good chance that you put a lot of weight and stress on your feet every day. For back pain, people often get massages, so it makes sense that there should also be foot massages too, right? Reflexology is much more than a foot massage, but at its basic level, that’s the best way to describe it.
Reflexology is an alternative therapy used to treat a wide variety of conditions, and has been in use for thousands of years. The ancient Chinese and Egyptians have documented practices similar to reflexology as a treatment for certain illnesses.
Imagine that there is a connection between areas (called zones) of your feet that represent certain areas of your body, and the body can be rebalanced via these zones. A lot of the theory behind reflexology has to do with clearing and balancing your qi (or life energy), but even for those who normally don’t invest much in their health, there are plenty of scientific studies that have supported the claims of reflexologists.
How does Reflexology work?
It’s a complementary therapy that targets specific reflex points we all have on our feet (as well as lower legs, face, hands, and ears). By massaging and applying pressure on the feet, reflexologists can stimulate the central nervous system in quite precise ways. Specific points on the feet are shown to correspond to functions carried out by other parts of the body, and the pressure applied to them sends signals to release tension to internal organs and/or specific muscles. Importantly, reflexologists never claim to ‘cure’, ‘treat’ or ‘prescribe’; it’s a holistic practice.
Reflexology is believed to release ‘trapped energy’ – a build-up of emotional stress or feeling unwell, enabling energy to flow more freely through relaxation. Sounds perhaps a little whimsical, but there is a science to this too and plenty of scientific study.
Benefits of Reflexology
So, based on the scientific evidence, what are the benefits of Reflexology and how can it help you feel better?
1. Increases Nerve Function: As our body ages, our nerve endings become less sensitive in parts of our body, particularly in our extremities. However, reflexology has been connected with stimulating more than 7,000 different nervous endings in a single session, thereby increasing their function and reactivity. Opening and cleaning out neural pathways can help improve functionality and flexibility of many areas around the body. Neural pathways are like muscles, so it is good to work them once in a while to keep them sharp, just like you would in the gym!
2. Relieves Aches and Pains: Pain reduction following reflexology work is documented in 27 studies including research showing impact on individuals of all ages and health states.
In 2010, Dr. Carol Samuel (then of the University of Portsmouth) discovered that following reflexology for pain relief, patients experienced around 40% less pain, and could tolerate pain for 45% more time. That’s compelling.
3. Improves blood Circulation: One of the most well-known benefits of reflexology is an improvement in circulation throughout the body, which means that nutrients, blood and oxygen are being cycled through the body more effectively. This means more oxygen reaches vital organs, optimizing their functioning and further increasing the metabolism.
This also results in faster healing and re-growth of damaged cells. Tension can have a restrictive effect on blood flow which could lead to under-oxygenated muscles, and adverse effects such as the dreaded cramp! This treatment keeps the blood flowing and the tissue fresh.
Separate studies show that reflexology work increases blood flow to the feet, brain, kidneys and intestines.
4. Lowers blood pressure: High blood pressure has become fairly common in modern men and women. It can be caused by a number of things such as stress and an unhealthy diet, but in most cases it has no particular cause and is believed to be a result of environmental factors and genetics.
A study conducted on healthcare staff working with elderly people suffering from dementia – a job that is highly stressful and both physically and mentally taxing – showed that a 10-minute foot massage session up to three times a week resulted in improved mood, less anxiety and lower blood pressure.
5. Aids Relaxation and improves sleep: As mentioned above, reflexology has been known to open neural pathways, and this sort of free-flowing neural activity results in a more relaxed state in the body, one of reduced stress. For this reason, reflexology can flood your system with relaxation, inducing a state of calm throughout your body and mind.
According to “The Complete Illustrated Guide to Reflexology,” people of any age or sex-the elderly, women, men, teenagers, children and babies-can derive positive benefits from reflexology.” Although results vary from individual to individual, the soothing action of reflexology generally leaves the recipient feeling deeply relaxed and peaceful afterwards.
From the moment the reflexologists hands start their work, the relaxation begins as shown in research using EEG brain activity. Altogether, 24 studies demonstrate reflexology’s relaxation effects.
Insomnia can be a very troubling condition to suffer through, and Reflexology is commonly used to aid sleep disorders and help you sleep better. A soothing and relaxing foot massage will help the body unwind, improve blood circulation and relax the nerves. These in turn will encourage restful sleep, and helps your body relax and get back to its normal, healthy rhythms.
6. Cancer Relief: Although reflexology isn’t connected directly to curing cancer, it has been known to ease the side effects of cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. It helps these patients get to sleep, reduce anxiety, and also reduces the chances of vomiting or other indigestion issues that are commonly experienced. The more general effects of reflexology, such as clearing neural channels and increasing circulation, can help to slow the spread of cancer and can stimulate antioxidant activity to destroy cancer cells. Research is ongoing in this field.
Frequent sessions have been shown to significantly reduce anxiety in cancer patients. The techniques can be learned fairly quickly and can serve as an effective way of dealing with depression and anxiety.
Pain, nausea, vomiting, and/or anxiety eased for chemotherapy patients following reflexology work has been discussed in 16 studies from 7 countries so far.
7. Reduces the effects of depression and anxiety: Looking at some of the studies that have been done on the effects of reflexology, it seems that this type of foot massage goes beyond simply putting people in a relaxed state for the duration of the massage.
Research demonstrates that reflexology can reduce depression (11 studies) and anxiety (9 studies).
According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, receiving soothing hand or foot massages after the death of a loved one can help a lot to deal with the stressful grieving period. Foot massage provides consolation, helping people to balance the need to grieve and adapt to changes in life.
Certain points on the feet are helpful in alleviating depression symptoms, for instance, the spot in the center of the big toe, the spot at the center of the ball of your foot or the ball of the foot located under the big toe are associated with emotional stability and mental health.
Massaging these points or applying pressure to them for a few minutes 2 or 3 times a day can help relieve symptoms of depression.
And the benefits of Reflexology don't stop here, there are many more ways it can help you feel better, mentally and physically.
More benefits of reflexology
Helps to eliminate toxins and detoxify the body.
Reduces headaches and migraines
Benefits your immune system and aids faster healing
Can help with symptoms of pregnancy and menstruation
Aids poor digestion and symptoms of IBS
Improve your energy levels and fight fatigue.
As you can see, Reflexology and foot massage is a lot more beneficial to both physical and mental health than most people realise. Even for healthy people, reflexology can ensure you stay healthy!
Alternatively, there are plenty of resources available online that can help you learn a thing or two about the different styles of foot massage. It only takes 10–20 minutes a few times a week to achieve these benefits, so swap massages with your partner or best friend, and you can both reap the amazing benefits of foot massage without a lot of work.
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