What is Reflexology? 

By Lori Streim, Massage Therapist, Good Samaritan Center for Integrative Medicine


Reflexology is a holistic healing method that utilizes a pressure technique on precise reflex points on the feet or hands to produce an effect elsewhere in the body. It is based on the premise that energy pathways circulate throughout the body linking all tissue, glands, organs, and parts of the body. Reflexologists propose that areas or zones on the foot or hand correspond to regions of the body, and that by manipulating these zones one can promote the harmonious flow of energy throughout the body. It is believed that applying manual pressure to these reflexes sends signals that release congestion in the corresponding area. Another theory is that the pressure received in the feet may send signals that ‘balance’ the nervous system or release chemicals such as endorphins that reduce stress and pain.

Practices resembling reflexology have been documented in the histories of China, India, Japan, and Egypt where pressure therapies were recognized as preventative and therapeutic medicine. “Zone therapy” was introduced to the United States in 1913 by William H. Fitzgerald, M.D. (1872–1942), an ear, nose, and throat specialist, and Dr. Edwin Bowers. Fitzgerald claimed that applying pressure had an anesthetic effect on other areas of the body. It was modified in the 1930s and 1940s by Eunice D. Ingham (1889–1974), a nurse and physiotherapist. Ingham claimed that the feet and hands were especially sensitive, and mapped the entire body into “reflexes” on the feet, renaming “zone therapy” to “reflexology”. Modern reflexologists use Ingham’s methods, or similar techniques developed by the reflexologist Laura Norman.

Elderly people and those living with cancer or chronic disease may find that receiving a standard massage is too taxing. Ongoing appointments and medical treatment can be a strain both physically and emotionally. A strong massage can leave a person feeling bruised and drained. This population may benefit from bodywork that incorporates gentle reflexology. Organ systems can be supported in a soothing way without putting more demand on the body. By working on reflexes to the organs, the practitioner can support the kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, spleen, and digestive tract without having to work directly on sensitive, vulnerable areas of the body.

Reflexology can be effective in assisting with stress and fatigue. Perhaps a client needs support with fatigue.  If the fatigue is caused by toxicity due to chemotherapy, the reflexologist can work with the foot reflex to the liver. If it is caused by stress, the practitioner can address the kidneys, adrenals, and heart. Perhaps they have pain or swelling and don’t feel like being touched.  The reflexologist can then work gently through the feet and hands.

Reflexology may also assist foot problems such as plantar fasciitis, numbness, aching, burning, and tiredness.

At Good Samaritan’s Center for Integrative Medicine, Ilyse Streim, LMT, provides Oncology Massage that may include Reflexology to the feet and hands.

*Note: Complementary therapies such as Reflexology are not meant to treat potentially serious illnesses.  Never delay seeking appropriate medical treatment.


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