- Reflexology is a therapeutic technique involving massage on specific areas of the hands and feet.
- Benefits of reflexology include easing back pain, menstrual cramps, and reducing anxiety.
- Avoid reflexology if you are pregnant, have diabetes, epilepsy, or thyroid problems.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Reflexology is an alternative medicine technique — related to massage — that has roots dating back to ancient Egypt and traditional Chinese medicine. It was popularized in the United States in the early 1900s after doctors saw it practiced by Native American tribes.
Some of these benefits are backed by scientific research. But others are not. Here’s what you can actually expect from reflexology, both the benefits and side effects.
What is reflexology?
Reflexology is a therapeutic technique involving massaging and applying pressure to specific areas of the hands and feet. It’s based on the theory that charted pressure points correspond with different organs and body parts. Specifically, these points correspond to an increase in blood flow says Dustin Martinez, DC, owner of Whole Health Chiropractic.
Benefits of reflexology
- Relieving migraines and headaches
- Relieving arthritis pain
- Improving stroke recovery
- Relieving asthma symptoms
- Boosting fertility
- Relieving peripheral neuropathy — weakness or numbness in extremities due to nerve damage.
However, some small studies suggest reflexology may help to relieve:
Back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world and is notoriously difficult to treat. A small 2016 study of nurses with chronic low back pain found that three, 40-minute reflexology sessions over the course of two weeks significantly reduced pain severity scores.
“These studies are quite small, but the anecdotal support for reflexology can’t be ignored,” says Chris Airey, MD, a practicing physician and Medical Director at men’s health clinic Optimale. “Pain is subjective, and if reflexology helps a patient cope with their symptoms I see no harm.”
What the research says: A small 2019 study of hospitalized women with heart-attack-related issues found foot reflexology reduced both depression and anxiety scores relative to those who received routine care without a foot reflexology massage.
“Reflexology helps by increasing blood flow through the body which really helps to decrease stress and anxiety and lower our blood pressure. When you feel less stressed and less anxious, it’s easy to feel relaxed,” says Martinez.
If you’re sick of popping NSAIDs to deal with menstrual cramps, reflexology could provide some relief.
A small 2010 study in women with menstrual pain found reflexology reduced menstrual cramp intensity more than Ibuprofen. Patients who were subjected to ten, 40-minute reflexology sessions over two consecutive menstrual cycles experienced a significant reduction in pain intensity and duration compared to women who took 400 mg of Ibuprofen once every eight hours for three days.
Martinez says reflexology is often used as a complementary therapy alongside other therapies and modern medical treatments.
“I find the majority of patients notice the benefits after the first session, but everybody is unique and heals on their own time,” Martinez says.
Is reflexology harmful?
Reflexology is safe for most and causes minimal side effects, but certain people should avoid reflexology, or check with their doctor before trying it out.
You should avoid reflexology if you have:
- A foot injury
- An open wound
- A fungal condition, like athlete’s foot
- Blood clotting issues
You should check with a doctor before having reflexology if you have:
- Foot ulcers
- Thyroid problems
Important: People who are pregnant — take note. Certain pressure points on the feet can induce uterine contractions, so be sure to check with your doctor and alert your reflexologist if you’re pregnant.
You might experience mild side effects after reflexology, including:
- Tender feet or hands
- Emotional sensitivity
“Reflexology is not for everyone,” Martinez says. “I recommend contacting your local natural doctor or someone trained in reflexology to discuss what’s best”.
Some people will experience pain or soreness after a reflexology session, so Martinez recommends you find a practitioner who listens and communicates with you about pressure and massage intensity.
Larger, more thorough studies are needed to determine just how effective and beneficial reflexology is for certain conditions.
That said, it’s a non-invasive therapy that can be used alongside other medical treatments and may even help you relax.
If you want to try reflexology for yourself, look for a trained practitioner who is registered with the American Reflexology Certification Board or an equivalent, reputable certification board.
The Insidexpress is now on Telegram and Google News. Join us on Telegram and Google News, and stay updated.