Reflexology practice has been indicated by research to be effective, but detractors have raised questions about this beloved modality. Let’s review some of the most popular reflexology myths and misunderstandings for better industry awareness.
Reflexology is the practice of stimulating reflex points to create a positive reaction within the body. The definition of reflexology can have some variation depending on where you train or who you speak to.
Individuals with medical illness might seek reflexology sessions when conventional medicine has failed. Others could seek reflexology out of curiosity or for general wellness, relaxation, opioid-free treatment and more.
Reflexology now includes applications to the feet, hands, ears, tongue, popliteal fossa, face and other areas. It may be possible that some areas such as the feet are more effective than other bodily areas to apply reflexology, but this has yet to be studied and published with any veracity.
Reflexology application on the feet has the greatest number of published results for treatment of pain, headaches, PMS, multiple sclerosis, pregnancy, high blood pressure, oncology-related side effects, fibromyalgia, constipation and more. In many cases, foot reflexology was shown to be effective with a multitude of medical and physiological conditions.
The biggest reflexology myth today is that it is a pseudoscience or junk science. This myth ignores the fact that foot reflexology has been repeatedly shown to be effective for many medical conditions, among multiple reflexologists from around the world, in many different countries with similar beneficial results; however, we still have much more to learn and understand to improve reflexology efficacy and reliability.
Nothing is Guaranteed
One of the issues frustrating the positive momentum of reflexology practice is that one ailment or individual could improve with reflexology practice while another with the same ailment may not with the same practice.
For those who are seeking medical certainties, please ask yourself: Will ibuprofen treat 100% of headaches? Does joint replacement surgery guarantee to restore all ROM or relieve all pain? The answer in both cases is no.
It’s the same with reflexology practice. Some individuals may have a positive result while others will not. This lack of absolutes is commonly accepted in modern-day medical practice. In the end, the expectation of reflexology practice should not be higher than standard medical care, but some are seeking this regardless of conventional expectations.
Professionally trained reflexologists often deliver positive results without negative repercussions, which is rare for medical care. But there is no single proven theory of how or why reflexology works. This lack of proven theory discounts the most important scenario which is: Did it work? In many cases, reflexology has worked. What’s better is reflexology could be an incredible option where other medical treatments are lacking, invasive or fail.
As always, massage therapists must refer clients to medical professionals when needed, and otherwise not address any condition out of their scope of practice.
It is doubtful that we will be able to explain with 100% certainty why reflexology works until we have a more complete understanding of the human body. That does not mean reflexology is not effective.
For over 150 years, we had very little understanding of how anesthesia works, but that did not hinder its application or effectiveness. And for years, researchers could not explain with 100% certainty how Tylenol works either, but that never stopped sales.
Another reason reflexology has been discounted is because of false claims, such as it can stimulate prenatal labor or miscarriage by working reflex points around the ankles. Unfortunately, some of these unproven practices were taught and repeated among reflexologists for years. There is no way to stimulate prenatal contractions through reflex points.
Improve your Reflexology Practice Efficacy
Here are some general tips that may improve your overall application, regardless of the reflexology method practiced:
1. Do not make claims that reflexology will cure anything. While reflexology is proven to provide medical benefits, it’s not 100% effective. You should also prepare your client to be open to unpredictable results. You might be working toward relieving a headache, for example, but you could end up relieving their sinuses instead.
2. Set the mood. A nurturing environment and touch addresses clients’ biopsychosocial needs and can be a stimulator of pain relief. Providing a relaxing environment during a reflexology appointment could surely help given stress is the number-one cause of illness. It’s important to provide an environment that will allow the client to relax and enjoy the session.
3. Use commonly accepted reflexology charts and practices. There are many similarities in reflexology practice, regardless of where you train. Reflexology charts should be a map depicting the human body. If a chart shows the heart’s reflex points exclusively on the right foot, or if the spine’s reflex points are on the lateral foot, something might be amiss.
4. Positive intention is everything. Think about the client’s purpose and goal for reflexology treatment and mentally wish this for them while physically practicing. Do not let your mind wander about what time to pick up the kids or what’s needed at the grocery store. Be present with the client with positive intentions. Your client will likely feel it.
5. Set and honor reasonable client goals. Continue treatment for as long as the client’s goals are met, or until treatment is no longer needed. Do not continually schedule appointments when expectations are not met. It’s OK to book a second appointment if there are no results or repercussions with the first treatment, but if the client’s goals are not met after a couple sessions, discuss adjusting expectations or suggest a different route of care instead of continuing unsuccessful sessions.
Reflexology Training and Practice
Practicing reflexology will require specialty training that includes learning contraindications plus reflex points and how to stimulate them. Understanding some of the theories of how reflexology is likely to work may also help.
It’s important to note that all reflexology charts and instruction could have slightly different variations, especially between various methods. There are several different methods and applications of reflexology practice, but none of the methods have been scientifically proven to be more effective than another.
There would be massive copyright issues if all reflexology materials and instruction matched, and some instructors and schools have a slightly different thought process to justify their differences.
In true reflexology practice, the map of the body from top to bottom should not be affected by these variations; however, standard applications could change when working with conditions such as situs inversus. Learning about this with professional training should be sought from a reputable place such as an NCBTMB-approved reflexology CE class.
Visit massagemag.com on April 18, 2022, to read “Why Are There Different Reflexology Charts?” by Selena Belisle.
About the Author
Selena Belisle is a retired professional athlete and the founder of CE Institute LLC in Miami, Florida, which offers training and CE classes. She has practiced sports massage for over 30 years and started St. John Neuromuscular Therapy training in 1995.