All About Reflexology


The nervous system hypothesis

According to one theory, a reflexologist can break up patterns of stress in other parts of the body through the 7200 nerves in the feet by applying “technique”:

Pressure applied to the feet generates a signal through the peripheral nervous system. From there it enters the central nervous system where it is processed in various parts of the brain. It is then relayed to the internal organs to allocate the necessary adjustments in fuel and oxygen. Finally a response is fashioned that is sent on to the motor system. This message is fed forward to adjust the body’s tone or overall tension level. Theoretically, if applied properly, the tone will reset itself to a lower operating tempo. A lower operating tempo means a lessening of stress and less wear and tear on the body’s systems.

The Qi hypothesis

Another proposed theory is that the body contains an energy field, invisible life force, or Qi. While this theory lacks basis in scientific fact, it has been suggested that when this “life force” is blocked or imbalanced at a point in the body, illness in the organs of that area may result. However, stimulation of the corresponding points on the feet, hands or ears can unblock and increase the flow of vital energy to various unhealthy parts of the body and promote healing.

Similarly, blockages of this life force (in the organs of the body) are reflected through the feet, hands and ears in the form of lumps or crystals. A therapist will feel these imperfections and massage directly onto the lump or crystals to dissipate the blockage.

Other hypotheses

Some other proposed explanations include the release of endorphins (natural pain killers in the body, stimulation of nerve circuits in the body (“cutaneo-organ reflexes”), promotion of lymphatic flow or the dissolving of uric acid crystals.

This picture may show ancient Egyptian reflexologists[1], or possibly a Manicure/Pedicure


This picture may show ancient Egyptian reflexologist, or possibly a manicure/pedicure

It was introduced into the United States in 1913 by William H. Fitzgerald, M.D. (1872-1942), an ear, nose, and throat specialist, and accompanied by Dr. Edwin Bowers. At the time, he showed that applying pressure had an anesthetic effect on another area.

Reflexology was further developed by Eunice D. Ingham (1899-1974), a nurse and physiotherapist, in the 1930s and 1940s. Ingham found that the feet and hands were especially sensitive, and then mapped the entire body into “reflexes” on the feet. It was at this time that “zone therapy” was renamed reflexology, and found to be effective for more than just pain reduction.

Modern reflexologists in the United States and the United Kingdom often learn Ingham’s method first, although there are other more recently developed methods.


Short term

Reactions to reflexology are demonstrated by case studies rather than statistical conclusions. These will vary between individuals and treatments, but are most commonly reported to include the following.

During treatment

  • Feelings of relaxation, comfort, or wellbeing
  • Yawning or sleep – this is often described as surprisingly refreshing
  • Tiredness
  • “Tingling” sensations
  • Slightly reduced body temperature as a result of relaxation

According to the theories of reflexology, the tingling and tiredness are due to release of built-up toxins and clearing of energy blockages in the body. These feelings may also result from the placebo effect or more correctly stated, the Gate Control Theory.

After treatment

  • Reduced stress
  • Feelings of deep relaxation
  • Improved circulation
  • Induced homeostasis, or the body “being in a dynamic state of balance”
  • Revitalized personal energy

In rare cases a client may experience a “healing crisis”, which may include headaches, nausea and sinus congestion. This is considered by practitioners to be a result of the body clearing its toxins, and is unlikely to be disabling or to last more than twenty-four hours. Reflexologists state that this experience is a positive cleansing process.


  • Immune system boost through reduced stress

Stress can drain the immune system, leading to more frequent cases of illness and infection. Stress can also cause tension, which can cause neck and shoulder stiffness and headaches. Regular relaxation helps prevent stress and improve the overall functioning of the immune system.

  • Feeling of increased energy

It is claimed that reflexology opens pathways to renew ourselves and boost our energy level, immediately after treatment and for several days afterwards. It could keep us free from the feeling of lacking motivation, tiredness, and inability to concentrate. Reflexology advocates say that reflexology not only relieves symptoms, but also acts on improvements of our body as a whole.


Reflexologists apply pressure using their thumbs and fingers on “reflex zones” found on the feet and hands, which correspond to the different parts of the body.
It should be made clear that reflexology is not intended to diagnose or treat medical conditions, and is not a replacement for conventional medical practice.


As with any physical treatment, there are some conditions that could prevent a practitioner from treating a client.
Clients should avoid reflexology if they suffer from:

  • Recent or healing fractures
  • Unhealed wounds
  • Active gout

Clients should seek medical advice before a treatment in the case of the following:

  • Osteoarthritis affecting the ankle or foot
  • Severe circulation problems in the legs or feet
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Presence of a pacemaker
  • Unstable blood pressure
  • Cancer
  • Active infections
  • Syncope
  • Mental illness
  • Gallstones or kidney stones
  • Pregnancy
  • Epilepsy


While scientists have conducted studies testing the effectiveness of reflexology, there are potential research problems that tend to crop up.

  • Testing the healing potential of reflexology on sick people raises ethical issues, because in an exclusive study sick people would be deprived of standard medical care.
  • Regarding the ability to uncover conditions in the body through the feet are
      • the patients’ willingness to share information about their health problems
      • subliminal cuing (referring to signals that people send without realizing that they are doing so).


As with any other physical treatment, from the point of view of the practitioner and the client, it is wise to consider any contraindications before treatment. More of a concern are practitioners who believe they have the ability to screen for health problems or similar. Reflexology has the potential to be harmful indirectly if:

  • The reflexologist tries to diagnose an illness
  • The reflexologist relies upon the feet to tell the patient that they don’t have an illness, when they do (the feet only can influence but is not always the primary factor in causing an illness)
  • The system is used to replace a more effective therapy or medical treatment.
Auriculotherapy -also known as auricular therapy (ear acupuncture) – is a form of alternative medicine based on the idea that the ear is a microsystem, meaning that the entire body is represented on the auricle (or auricula, or pinna – the outer portion of the ear) in a similar fashion to reflexology (zone therapy) and iridology (iridodiagnosis), and that the entire body can be treated by stimulation of the surface of the ear exclusively.





PLEASE NOTE: Students are not licensed Reflexologist upon completion of this course! Reflexology, Auriculotherapy, etc., is presented as elective material as part of the Complimentary Modality section of the cirriculum and is meant to provoke the student’s individual interests. There are many modalities available and the student is encouraged to actively pursue them in accordance with I-ACT standards, their state laws and of course personal interests!