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The difference between Reflexology and Massage

Reflexology vs massage therapy

I often get asked “Is Reflexology a foot massage?”, and yes, it does involve some massage, but it is also so much more. Reflexology and massage are two different disciplines, but both are highly beneficial to the body and aim to enhance the wellbeing of the client.

There are similarities

I specialise in both Reflexology and massage in my therapy business as I believe there are benefits to both. There is a lovely mind-body connection in both Reflexology and massage, both use the therapist’s hands and skill to bring balance and harmony to the body and its systems, and both aim to relax and repair the body, reduce pain and stress, and improve sleep.

However, you will find many massage therapists and Reflexologists that choose to concentrate on one or the other, and that’s ok, but which is right for you?

Well, what are the differences?

Feet vs the entire body

Reflexology is a practice that applies pressure to ‘Reflex zones’ to promote healing within the body, usually in the feet, but can also be applied to the hands, ears and face.

If your therapist is only qualified in Reflexology then only the feet, hands and ears are touched during a treatment. This has the added benefits that only your feet and hands need to be exposed during a treatment.

Massage therapists, on the other hand, are trained to massage the entire body, and in this case, you are asked to undress to your underwear, covered to maintain your dignity, and the majority of the body is then touched via massage, including, legs, arms, back, shoulders, face and scalp, feet (but not specific reflex points), and optionally, the abdomen.

Using specialised techniques and skills

Reflexology primarily uses the fingers and thumbs in specific techniques such as thumb walking, circles, hooks and applied pressure to work the reflexes in the feet. These reflexes are mapped to the entire body, and therefore the whole body can feel like it’s received a treatment from just the feet. Sensitive or tender spots will show where there is an imbalance in the body, and extra attention can be paid to these areas.

The reflexologist will follow the flow of the body as they work, ensuring the energy and body are in sync with each other, and healing follows the natural flow of the body’s systems.

Massage is a manipulation of the soft tissues on large muscles groups such as the trapezius in the back, and the therapist can use thumbs, hands, arms, elbows and other tools to work on relaxing these soft tissues.

Methods can vary depending on the specialism of the massage therapist, but can include oils, aromatherapy, kneading, rolling movements, stretches, deep tissue work, heated stones, or rhythmic tapping to get the desired result.

Systems vs structure

Reflexology works with the body systems, and flow of energy in meridian lines or zones with the intention of working a specific illness or body system. In this way, the reflexologist can use the sensitive areas found on the feet to improve circulation, aid relaxation, reduce stress, balance and improve the function of the internal organs, increase energy, reduce pain, PMS symptoms, IBS symptoms, diabetes and promote self-healing.

Massage works with the structure of the body, using muscles, tendons, bones, and blood flow to improve circulation, reduce muscular tension and ease localised pain by manipulating the muscles and soft tissues across the entire body.

The Benefits

Reflexology can benefit the whole body, balancing internal body systems, improving circulation and increasing energy levels. It also offers a way to break the stress signals and restore the body’s natural balance or homeostasis.

Massage can also benefit the whole body by reducing muscular tension, improving circulation and if done well, can induce relaxation in the client.

Mentally, there is a mind-body connection with both Reflexology and massage, which can have a positive effect on your mood, lift your spirits and enhance your wellbeing

Whichever way you choose to go, time out for relaxation and to promote healing is important to your wellbeing, both mentally and physically.

The important thing is to be comfortable with your therapist and confident in their abilities. Choose a therapist who is qualified and has lots of experience in their field.

You can find a qualified Reflexologist in your area on the Association of Reflexologists website ( or search The Federation for Holistic Therapies (FHT) ( for therapists that can offer Massage and/or Reflexology.

Calm your mind, relax your body, renew your spirit.

Sharon Cole

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