So, firstly, a brief history …
Known as the Mother of Reflexology, Eunice Ingham was the first person to recognise the relationship between the organs of the body and specific points (or reflexes) on the feet. Her work was based on the research conducted by Dr Fitzgerald, who believed illness could be cured by applying significant pressure to zones in the feet (later called zone therapy), He hypothesised that his zone theory worked by blocking impulses to the brain, and that many conditions disappeared as the result of an improvement in the lymphatic flow.
Following extensive work and many years of experiments, observation and refinement of Fitzgerald's theory, Eunice Ingham mapped the human body on the feet. She believed the feet represented a microcosm of the human body, with the toes representing the head, the instep the digestive organs, and the heels below the waist. Ingham believed that each nerve ending was part of a unique feedback loop relating to a corresponding part of the body, and that if it was blocked it would create imbalance and illness in the individual. She then went on to develop a form of pressure that could break up these blockages, and restore balance to the body.
Since their work, our knowledge of anatomy and physiology as increased tremendously, and new theories have been developed and tested to explain how Reflexology might work, but the most notable thing in all the research evidence is the benefits.
8 Unexpected benefits of Reflexology
Here are 8 unexpected benefits of reflexology that you might not have been aware of. The benefits can often be immediate, or occur after a couple of weeks of regular sessions.
1. Reduces the effects of depression and anxiety
People with depression often experience symptoms similar to those of an anxiety disorder, such as nervousness, irritability, problems sleeping and concentrating. But each disorder has its own causes and its own emotional and behavioural symptoms.
Many studies have revealed foot reflexology could reduce pain and psychological distress like depression and anxiety. It relieves symptoms of depression because it stimulates particular pressure points/nerve endings in the hands and feet, which then;
Encourages flow of blood to body organs and improves circulation
Eliminates build-up of toxins in the body, linked to mood swings
Activates the endocrine system, balancing hormones which control our mood
Optimises nervous system function, the communication centre of the body
Induces relaxation by reducing stress and muscle tension
Encourages the release of endorphins; the natural feel-good hormones in the body
Certain points on the feet are helpful in alleviating depression symptoms, for instance, the centre of the big toe, the ball of your foot or the spot under the big toe are all associated with emotional stability and mental health.
2. Lowers blood pressure
High blood pressure has become fairly common these days. It can be caused by a number of things such as stress, magnesium deficiency, or an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, but in most cases, it has no particular cause.
High blood pressure can be easily controlled with the help of reflexology and the effects of a treatment last for a long time afterwards. The adrenal gland plays a very important role; its responsible for the stress hormones which pump blood faster ready for ‘fight or flight’ responses. Massaging this point and other hormones during a treatment can have significant benefits in reducing stress and lowering blood pressure.
In Korea, nurses were trained to apply foot reflexology to patients with hypertension twice a week. After 6 weeks, the results showed significant decreases in systolic blood pressure compared to the group who did not receive reflexology.
3. Improves circulation
One of the most important aspects of reflexology is an improvement in circulation throughout the body. When improved, nutrients, blood and more oxygen are being pumped through the body more effectively. This will promote cell growth, improve organ function, increase healthy skin, and lower your blood pressure.
Separate studies show that reflexology work increases blood flow to the feet, brain, kidneys and intestines.
4. Helps prevent foot and ankle injuries
When you spend a lot of time exercising like I do the feet take a lot of the impact, especially when running, and without proper measures can lead to injury. Reflexology and massaging the feet can help with joint pain and aid recovery after an injury, as well as reduce muscle soreness.
However, when massage is combined with foot and ankle strengthening exercises, it can prevent future injuries, as well as speed up recovery of existing injuries. We all have our moments of clumsiness, but a strengthened and flexible ankle and foot ensures that we can avoid unpleasant and painful injuries.
5. Helps with flat feet and plantar fasciitis
When standing upright, most people have a gap between in the inner side of the foot and the ground known as an “arch”. Feet that have a low arch or no arch at all are referred to as flat feet or fallen arches.
Although the focus of reflexology is the whole body, sore aching feet will appreciate what a great reflexology session can provide in terms of relaxing the muscles of the foot, allowing the pain and tension in the muscles to release, and its ability restore the natural arch of the foot over time.
Plantar Fasciitis means inflammation of your “plantar fascia”, a strong band of tissue (like a ligament) that stretches from your heel to your middle foot bones. It supports the arch of your foot and also acts as a shock absorber. The condition arises when undue stress is placed on the ligament in your foot that supports your plantar fascia.
During Reflexology, manipulation of the foot can help release muscle tension and the adhesions that form when inflammation is present, therefore allowing greater movement. Through specific techniques, it can increase circulation to the area which will deliver much needed healing oxygen and nutrients while removing toxins.
6. Helps with headaches and migraines
Headaches such as tension headache and sinus headache, are common and painful. Migraine symptoms include a pounding headache, nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity.
Reflexology is used by many of my clients to eliminate pain. Simply by relieving tension in the muscles that can often result in migraines and headaches, reflexology can reduce the severity of attacks. Any headaches bought on by stress can also be eliminated, since stress can often manifest in the physical symptoms of a migraine. Working to release endorphins; the body’s natural painkillers, is actually one of the most popular applications of reflexology.
7. Helps alleviate symptoms of PMS and menopause
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can be a miserable time for many women every month due its variety of symptoms, including: headaches, mood swings, fluid retention, depression, anxiety, irritability, abdominal bloating, cramping, and skin blemishes.
Reflexology could help to alleviate some of these painful and depressing symptoms, for example, if you retain water, using the treatment to work on the kidneys can help flush out excess fluids. The main aim of Reflexology is to balance the body, and with the hormones in balance it may remove the symptoms of PMS each month.
In a similar way, Reflexology has been found to be effective during the menopause too. This is a natural change in the female reproductive system that normally occurs between the ages 45 and 55. As the ovaries cease to function, the levels of oestrogen and progesterone in the body fall, leading to the emotional and physical problems often associated with the 'change'. Hot flushes and night sweats are common symptoms. Other symptoms may include tiredness, anxiety, depression, irritability, disturbed sleep, poor concentration and memory lapses, making women feel they have lost control of their lives.
During menopause, reflexology works by balancing the hormones, and restoring balance to both the physical and emotional aspects. By working with the hypothalamus and pituitary, reflexology can help to restore balance to the endocrine system. This in turn can alleviate menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes as well as anxiety. By calming the central nervous system, sleep disturbances can also be alleviated and anxiety and stress levels reduced.
Research carried out at the UK School of Complementary Health in Exeter indicates a marked decrease in anxiety, depression, insomnia, hot flushes and night sweats among menopausal women who received regular reflexology over a 4-month period.
8. Reduces the effects of edema in pregnant women
During pregnancy, the body produces approximately 50% more blood and body fluids to meet the needs of the developing baby. Swelling is a normal part of pregnancy that is caused by this additional blood and fluid. Normal swelling, which is also called edema, is experienced in the hands, face, legs, ankles, and feet.
The fluid that builds up to become edema is normally brought back to the heart via the lymphatic system. Unlike the circulatory system which has a pump (the heart), the lymphatic system relies on movements of the body to help drain its fluids, but often gets overwhelmed with the extra fluid produced during pregnancy. Since there are no little pumps at the ends of our fingers and toes, the gentle movements of the reflexology techniques (thumb and finger-walking developed by Eunice Ingham) at the extremities, supports the natural processes of whole body.
If you think Reflexology could benefit you, why not give it a try.
"The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art"
- Leonardo Di Vinci