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What is Reflexology? Benefits and Differences from Massage

What is Reflexology? Benefits and Differences from Massage

What are the benefits of reflexology?

Anyone who gets massaged regularly probably has specific areas of their body that they relish receiving a soothing touch. For some, it’s the stress relief from holding tension in their shoulders, while others enjoy having the kinks worked out of their backs.

People who type on computers all day no doubt love having their hands rubbed. And those folks who are constantly on their feet can attest to enjoying a good foot massage. But don’t confuse this type of massage with reflexology. The latter has its own unique set of benefits that may surprise you.

Massaging the Feet

If it seems like your feet never get a break, it’s because they probably don’t. They are the first part of you to touch the floor each day and the last part of you to crawl into bed at night.

A foot massage improves circulation, provides muscle stimulation, reduces tension, and can provide pain relief, according to Harvard Medical School.

During a typical Swedish massage, your therapist will probably pay some attention to your feet. The arch, heel, and ball of the foot are all prime candidates for treatment. But those few minutes of foot TLC don’t come with the same focus and purpose of reflexology.

What is it?

Reflexology is a science that delves into the theory that the feet and hands contain reflex areas that correspond with organs, glands, and other body parts, according to the International Institute of Reflexology. Proper stimulation of these reflexes can naturally aide health problems.

Reflexology isn’t a new modality. It is believed to have been practiced by the Egyptians around 2330 B.C. Reflexology was modernized in the 1930s by Eunice Ingham, specifically involving the feet. Ingham’s form of reflexology – the Ingham Method – mostly involved relaxing tension while improving nerve and blood supply.


The University of Minnesota published an article detailing that, through a series of studies, some of the benefits of reflexology include pain reduction, enhanced relaxation, and reduced levels of anxiety and depression.

A summary of those studies led researchers to believe that it can increase blood flow to kidneys, decrease blood pressure, lower anxiety levels, and reduce pain.

Individual studies showed reflexology possibly having positive benefits on patients with specific health issues.

Anxiety: Lowered anxiety in varicose vein surgical patients and also in postmenopausal women.

Cancer: Improved multiple quality of life categories, including appetite, breathing, communication, concentration, fear of future, mood, nausea, pain, and fatigue. Breast cancer patients developed a noticeable pain decrease.

Diabetes Type 2: Reduced pain and improved glycemic control and nerve conductivity in patients.

Multiple Sclerosis: Lessens fatigue in women who suffer from MS.

Pediatrics: In infants that suffered from acute pain, reflexology helped to lower heart rates, increase oxygen saturation, and shorten crying periods. In children who suffered from chronic constipation, reflexology helped to increase the number of bowel movements while reducing constipation symptom scores.

Physiological Research: Thermographic pictures of the soles of the feet, before and after a reflexology session, and similar pictures of the spinal column connect foot reflexology to numerous organs, including the lungs, liver, stomach, pancreas, and small intestine. Blood flow to those organs appears to be regulated by reflexology.

Postoperative Symptoms: Postoperative patients showed a decrease in medication usage and a decrease in postoperative pain.

Sinusitis: Reflexology produced the same symptom reduction as patients who used nasal irrigation products.


Despite its level of safety, this modality might not be for everyone. Before opting to receive reflexology treatment, discuss it with your doctor if you suffer from any of the following health conditions notes Healthline:

  • Feet circulation issues
  • Blood clots in your leg veins
  • Gout
  • Foot ulcers
  • Thyroid problems
  • Epilepsy
  • Blood problems that cause bleeding and bruising easily

Hand Reflexology

Like foot reflexology, hand reflexology involves applying pressure to reflex points in and around the hands, according to Healthline. Those pressure points relate to other areas in the body, and applying pressure to those points can relieve symptoms in those areas.

Studies that examined hand reflexology found no adverse health effects resulting from the treatment, though, pregnant women should avoid receiving reflexology since it can potentially induce contractions.

Benefits of Hand Reflexology

The Healthline article also detailed how studies showed that hand reflexology provided some benefit for three health-related conditions.

Anxiety was decreased in patients who were about to undergo a coronary angiography, according to an article published on Science Direct.

The physical and emotional causes of constipation in women were decreased in 94 percent of patients who underwent six weeks of hand reflexology, as noted in an article on Science Direct.

Hand reflexology also helps those folks who suffer from headaches caused by stress or anxiety noted in another Science Direct article.

Contraindications for Hand Reflexology

Hand reflexology also includes a list of contraindications for patients with certain health conditions. Some of those, including circulation issues, blood clots, and gout, are the same as with foot reflexology. Folks with the following health problems should abstain from hand reflexology:

  • Thyroid issues
  • Epilepsy
  • Low platelet counts
  • Diarrhea
  • Open wounds
  • Hand inflammation

The jury is still out on to what extent foot and hand reflexology provide treatment for certain diseases due to the small group sizes used in many of the studies. But there is evidence that reflexology sometimes acts as a form of complementary therapy, especially for stress and anxiety.

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