by Nick Lakoff, CMT
By popular demand I am taking a second, more in-depth look at Reflexology. As I mentioned in my previous article, Reflexology in its inception, was conceived as a means to control, manage and alleviate temporary and chronic pain. As it evolved, it was also found to relieve signs and symptoms of a variety of common ailments. If you look at modern reflexology charts today, you will find corresponding acupressure points for nearly every major body part and organ in the body. Twenty years ago, there wasn’t a single study published in medical journals on Reflexology. Today, hundreds have been published that show Reflexology is a very effective or a contributing factor in the alleviation of symptoms of many conditions and illnesses.
One area of research that interest me in particular and is showing the greatest potential for demystifying Reflexology’s effectiveness is the research being done with fMRI’s (Functioning Magnetic Resonance Imagery) in countries such as Austria, China (and Hong Kong), Japan and the UK. These studies are showing that Reflexology points in the feet directly stimulate their corresponding linked areas in the body and the brain. A UK study that had Reflexologists stimulate the liver point in both feet had their subjects undergo fMRI’s immediately after the sessions and increased activity in the liver was detected in a majority of case subjects. fMRI’s have now been used to validate the effects of many other reflex points in the feet, hands and ears.
We are now witnessing science, with the help of new technologies, validating what Reflexology practitioners have learned through experience. Although many of these studies conclude that western medicines have more effective impacts on these injuries and ailments, the researchers have come to see Reflexology as a useful non-invasive complementary means of treating injuries and disease.
Reflexology has been one of the great successes in integrating massage into hospitals. Since only extremities are worked on with no oils, creams or gels, set up is simple and can be done almost anywhere. It has been used on patients in pre-op to reduce stress related to having surgical procedures. Anaesthesiologists report that patients who get some form of massage prior to being rolled into the operating room usually require lower doses of anaesthetics which in turn reduces risks related to surgeries. Reflexology has also been used successfully in oncology departments, helping with managing pain, dealing with depression and nausea caused by chemotherapy and stress.
One thing about Reflexology that is understated is that, when performed correctly, it is extremely pleasant and relaxing. In fact, Reflexology’s other great claim to fame is it is very effective in combating stress and therefore reducing levels of Cortisol in the blood, which in high doses weakens the immune systems response.
First off, you are usually lying down which automatically puts you in a resting mode. Then there should be a sway to and fro when the pressure is applied via the thumbs or fingers. This way the whole body is impacted and the pressure is spread rather than being too specific, which can be painful. Sometimes practitioners don’t use the thick part of their fingers which are more padded and neglect to support the limb correctly in order to apply the pressure at the right angle. This is critical, as Reflexology should not hurt in any circumstance. In very specific cases (i.e. a person suffering from Plantar Fasciitis), the sole of the foot is too sensitive and in that case I would simply concentrate on the back of the foot or hands, ears and head.
In my practice I’ve often combined reflexology with Swedish massage as a way to introduce clients to the benefits of Reflexology. For example, I sometime I suggest a half and half. I start with half an hour of Reflexology and then do half an hour of another technique such as Swedish massage. I start with the Reflexology since no oils, creams or gels are used. This way a client can get a little taste of what it’s all about but still get a more traditional massage as well.
Nick Lakoff is a certified practitioner in the following disciplines: Swedish Massage, Sports Massage, Reflexology, Acupressure, Myo-Fascial Release, Massage for Pregnancy, Swedish Chair Massage, Hot Stone Massage and Reiki.