This site is organized by the Massachusetts Association of Reflexology’s Research Committee to compile clinical research on reflexology for easy access by clients, practitioners, and interested parties. As such, the opinions expressed therein are those of the site author and not those of the Massachusetts Association of Reflexology.

Reflexology does not profess to cure medical conditions, and is intended to be a complementary therapy for relaxation purposes only. It does not profess to replace regular medical care from a physician.

Reflexology works through the nervous system, having its basis in neuroscience. It works by stimulating nerve reflexes in the feet, the same way that reflexes work when the doctor taps your knee. The doctor taps your patellar tendon which stimulates an afferent, or sensory, nerve which goes to your spine. The return signal, or reflex arc, travels along an efferent, or motor, nerve to the quadriceps muscle, which contracts, and your leg kicks. With the presence of a stimulus, reflexes are automatic and involuntary. Blinking, pupil dilation and constriction, shivering, and sneezing are all reflexes in the body.

Reflexology works in this same way. It involves the application of alternating pressure with the practitioner’s thumb and index finger to areas on the surface of the feet, hands, face, and ears. This pressure stimulates nerve endings which travel to the spine, and then, it is believed, these signals travel out to specific organs and glands in the body. This is unusual because most reflex signals return to the same area where the sensory neuron was stimulated, that is, the motor neuron is in the near vicinity of the sensory nerve. With foot reflexology, it is posited, the case is different. Instead of returning to the feet (though there is also a return here), the signal is believed to travel to the internal organs and glands once the signal reaches the spine. How and why this happens is still being investigated. The fact that there are different types of known reflexes, including the crossed extensor reflex, may provide some clues, and the possibility that a reflex mechanism exists between the extremities and the internal organs.

Man-made maps of these areas or reflex points on the feet, hands, ears, and face help practitioners to focus on those areas in their clients’ feet. Maps contain slight variations by geographic region and according to different schools of thought. However, most practitioners generally agree on how the body’s major organs and glands correspond with the nerve endings in the feet, as there is much overlap in these mappings.

Also to be explained is the frequent correlation of tenderness in the reflex area of a particular organ with illness or stress in that body part. This particular phenomenon may have been how the maps originated.

As noted above, why and how (and whether) this motor nerve signal to the organs happens is still being investigated. In the meantime, clinical studies show that reflexology is an effective complementary therapy for pain reduction or pain management, and can improve quality of life. Reflexology has been shown in many studies of cancer patients and those with other illnesses to have a palliative effect, and, until further research tells us more, can be valued and utilized at the very least for its palliative qualities.

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