Alternative Medicine Reflexology

You might be enjoying a foot massage and think you’re receiving reflexology, but foot massage and reflexology therapy are two different techniques altogether. Massage is the manipulation of soft tissue such as muscles, tendons, ligament, and fascia. Reflexology is the application of specific pressure to specific reflex zones for the purpose of affecting the entire body and restoring balance. A reflex zone is an area that can affect other parts of the body.

Development and Theory of Reflexology

Although archeological evidence indicates that ancient reflexology therapies existed in Egypt, China and Japan, modern reflexology developed out of the Zone Theory promoted by Dr. William H. Fitzgerald in the early 1900s. Fitzgerald used specific pressure points to relieve pain and promote healing.

In the 1930s, physical therapist Eunice D. Ingham began using the principles of Zone Therapy on her patients’ feet. She eventually determined which reflexes on the feet corresponded to each organ of the body. By applying pressure to a specific area of the foot, based on Ingham’s reflexology chart, a reflexologist can affect the organs of the body.

Although reflexology developed out of Zone Therapy, these two therapies are different. Zone Therapy relies only on the zones to determine which area to work, while reflexology uses both the zones and anatomy.

The reflexology chart developed by Ingham is now known as The Original Ingham Method®. Other styles of reflexology also exist, including hand reflexology and reflexology using points on the outer ear.

Reflexology Benefits

The most basic reflexology benefits are relaxation and stress reduction, although reflexology may also improve circulation by stimulating the nervous and subtle energy systems.

Based on the theory that working reflex zones can affect other parts of the body, reflexologists believe that reflexology therapy can improve the function of organs, glands and all systems of the body. Thus, reflexology is a natural medicine technique that works with the function of the body, using the foot as a map of the body and its organs.

Among other reflexology benefits, this alternative therapy may:

  • Complement mental health care by reducing stress and anxiety
  • Facilitate labor and delivery for pregnant women and assist in post-partum recovery
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Relieve pain, nausea, vomiting and anxiety associated with cancer treatment.

More than 170 reflexology studies have been done, including 95 controlled studies. Roughly 90 percent of these studies prove the positive effects of reflexology, suggesting that it helps the body heal and improves quality of life.

Choosing a Reflexologist

Reflexology is often confused with massage because many massage therapists have a basic working knowledge of reflexology. That’s fine, if you just want a little reflexology added to your massage. However, if you want the full benefits of reflexology therapy, you should find a qualified reflexologist.

States vary in their regulation of reflexology. Some lump it in with massage regulation, while others recognize reflexology as a separate profession. Start your search with the International Institute of Reflexology or another professional reflexology organization. Also, ask any potential reflexologists about their training and how they approach reflexology therapy. Find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable.


Kunz, B.