What Should You Know About It?

Woman getting foot massage from reflexologist (focus on foot)
Philip and Karen Smith/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Reflexology is a form of bodywork that focuses primarily on the feet.


The underlying theory behind reflexology is that there are "reflex" areas on the feet and hands that correspond to specific organs, glands, and other parts of the body.

For example:

  • the tips of the toes reflect the head
  • the heart and chest are around the ball of the foot
  • the liver, pancreas and kidney are in the arch of the foot
  • low back and intestines are towards the heel

He believed that certain areas on the feet and hands were linked to other areas and organs of the body. This concept was furthered by physiotherapist Eunice Ingham into the modern practice of reflexology.

Practitioners believe that applying pressure to these reflex areas can promote health in the corresponding organs through energetic pathways.

Dr. William H. Fitzgerald, an ear, nose, and throat doctor, introduced this concept of "zone therapy" in 1915. American physiotherapist Eunice Ingram further developed this zone theory in the 1930's into what is now known as reflexology.

The pressure may send signals that balance the nervous system or release chemicals such as endorphins that reduce pain and stress.

Keep in mind that the safety and effectiveness of alternative medicine, including reflexology, has not been scientifically proven and is largely unknown.

What will I feel?

Most people find reflexology, for the most part, to be very relaxing.

Reflexology shouldn't be painful. If you feel discomfort, be sure to tell the reflexologist. He or she should work within your comfort zone.

Some areas may be tender or sore, and the reflexologist may spend extra time on these points.

The soreness should decrease with pressure.

If you're ticklish, not to worry. The reflexologist applies firm pressure to the feet.

How is it different from foot massage?

Foot massage is similar to Swedish massage, the most common type of massage in North America. People typically use massage oil or lotion and use gentle gliding strokes all over the foot. Reflexology is quite different. While many people find reflexology relaxing, it's based on the theory that certain points on the feet correspond to certain organs and body parts and that applying pressure to the areas can promote health in the corresponding parts. 

Why do people get reflexology?

Reflexology is a popular alternative therapy. It promotes relaxation, improves circulation, reduces pain, soothes tired feet, and encourages overall healing.

Reflexology is also used for post-operative or palliative care. A study in the American Cancer Society journal found that one-third of cancer patients used reflexology as a complementary therapy.

Reflexology is recommended as a complementary therapy and should not replace medical treatment. 

What is a typical reflexology treatment like?

A typical treatment is 45 minutes to 60 minutes long and begins with a consultation about your health and lifestyle.

You are then asked to remove your shoes and socks and sit comfortably in a reclining chair or on a massage table. Otherwise you remain fully clothed.

The reflexologist will assess the feet and then stimulates various points to identify areas of tenderness or tension.

The reflexologist then uses brisk movements to warm the feet up. Then pressure is applied from the toes to the heel according to your comfort.

Lotion or oil may be used.

How will I feel after?

Most people feel calm and relaxed after a treatment. They may even feel sleepy.

Occasionally, people feel nauseous, anxious, or tearful, but this is only temporary and is considered to be part of the healing process.


If you're considering the use of reflexology, talk to your doctor first.

Be sure to give the reflexologist a complete and accurate health history. If you have foot ulcers, injury, blood vessel disease such as blood clots, other conditions or are pregnant, reflexology may not be appropriate or safe. Consult your doctor before having reflexology.

Continue Reading