Reflexology & Wellness

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Best Foot Forward
Reflexology may rub you the right way
by Rob Zukowski

Contrary to popular opinion, reflexology is not just another foot massage. Don’t get me wrong, stand-alone foot massage is an amazing experience, but there are notable differences between a general foot rub and reflexology.

Reflexology is a very specific complementary and alternative therapy based on the idea that different points, areas, and regions of the feet correspond to different organs, systems, and areas of the body. For example, the tips of the toes are said to correlate to the brain, and the arch of the foot is said to have an impact on the spine. Also notable is that while often reflexology sessions focus on primarily the feet, it is believed that there are similar corresponding points on the lower legs, hands, face, and ears. You can do a search on the Internet and find many pictures of assorted reflexology charts.

Who is thought to be the true pioneer of reflexology will be different depending on who you talk to. I, for example was taught that a woman named Eunice Ingham is known as the pioneer of modern reflexology, and she made incredible contributions to the field. That being said, I like to go way back in time. Depictions show assorted foot therapy treatments being used in China and Egypt as far back as 4000 B.C.E. In fact, a pictograph on the Egyptian tomb of Ankhmahor is thought to be one of the first recordings of the foot reflexology points. In addition, some Native American tribes are said to have used some kind of foot therapy.

It is believed in the reflexology community that this therapy can help treat symptoms related to HIV and AIDS, though more definitive research is needed. But in general, increasing overall wellness is always an important factor for anyone living with HIV.

Reflexology is said to help alleviate stress and anxiety, and their symptoms. For example, one symptom of stress is a decrease in circulation. Reflexology is said to improve circulation, thus allowing the body to effectively receive the nutrients it needs carried in the blood and better eliminate waste products and toxins. Further, on the subject of reflexology for stress, it is said that reflexology works on the central nervous system. This is a theory that is based on research that explains the neurological relationship between internal organs and the skin, and that the entire nervous system adjusts when stimulated. When pressure is made to the ears, hands, and feet, a calming message is sent to the central nervous system. As a result, overall relaxation helps the organs function at their best.

When I was in school for massage therapy, I recall sitting in the break room eating soup and drinking hot herbal tea to try and alleviate the symptoms of a severe winter cold. One of my professors, who was in the middle of overseeing a reflexology final exam, entered the break room and asked if I would be willing to lend my feet to the cause. It seems a student had not shown up for the exam and another student needed a subject to work on. Certainly, I was more than willing to help.

I entered the room, removed my shoes and socks and got in place on the massage table. Alas, I could not stop coughing, sneezing and wheezing and was overtly congested. As you might imagine, this was disruptive in a silent classroom of budding reflexology practitioners taking a final exam. The student who was working on me called the professor over and asked if perhaps he could deviate from the proposed treatment plan and instead work to alleviate my symptoms. He was granted that option.

Within about fifteen minutes of treatment, I ceased coughing, sneezing and wheezing and my congestion had cleared considerably. Hardly a definitive research study, mind you, but I was sold. I later learned that in one randomized, controlled study presented at the 2002 American Academy of Otolaryngology, researchers found that reflexology and nasal irrigation procedures improved chronic sinusitis in 150 patients.

It is said that reflexology may help increase energy levels, both immediately following a session and for several days after. There have been studies that show how reflexology can help reduce varied symptoms from cancer treatments, benefit patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, and help reduce hypertension. There have also been studies that have shown that reflexology could be as effective in treating and preventing general and migraine headaches as certain medications, as well as other studies that concluded that self-administered foot reflexology might have a positive effect in Type 2 diabetics.

Reflexology is not curative. It is a complementary treatment meant to enhance your overall wellness in addition to your existing medical regimen. It is however, in my opinion, well worth the try. When choosing a reflexologist, be sure to check the certification guidelines in your location and choose a practitioner with the proper education, training, experience, and credentials.


Rob Zukowski is a New York State licensed Massage Therapist, a Certified Medical Massage Therapist and is certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. In addition, he has advanced training in Sports Massage and sports-related injuries, various relaxation therapies, and massage for oncology. His experience includes working in medical facilities, corporate health environments, wellness centers, and spas. In addition to his hands-on work, he is a writer, manages a wellness center, arranges corporate wellness events, works in private practice and lectures in the field of therapeutic massage therapy. You can contact him directly at [email protected].

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