Relieve tension to reduce stress-related illness

Reflexology helps people cope with stressful world

Experts say that when people wring their hands during an anxiety-inducing situation or rub their aching feet at the end of a hard day, they are instinctively using reflexology to reduce stress. It works because there are reflexes in the feet and hands that correspond to every part of the body. For example, the palm of the hand corresponds with the diaphragm, spine, and internal organs. Thus, by rubbing the palm, abdominal tension is relieved.

"Reflexology is a method that uses the fingers and the thumbs to work the reflex areas on the feet or hands that correspond with glands and organs in different parts of the body. It helps relieve stress, improve circulation, and enhance nerve function. It helps nature normalize the body," says Catherine Smith, CMT, a reflexology therapist, massage therapist, and Bowman technician at All Seasons Day Spa in Sacramento, CA.

Most people seek a reflexology therapist for stress-related ailments such as headaches or lower back pain because it is a good relaxation technique. While complaints such as back pain are noted at a session and the area of the foot corresponding to the spine is worked, reflexology therapists don’t diagnose or treat a specific condition, says Smith. Clients are also warned that the relief they get from reflexology will not last long if they don’t address the stressful situation that is causing the problem. Reflexology should be one element of a holistic health care regimen.

Reflexology is a good relaxation technique for most people, but some precautions need to be taken. For example, sessions on elderly clients should be limited to 10 to 15 minutes on each foot, because it tends to exhaust them, says Smith. Also, when reflexology is used on a pregnant woman, the area corresponding with the uterus should not be worked.

Eunice Ingham, a physical therapist who practiced in the 1930s, developed the reflexology technique used today. It is based on the belief that the body consists of 10 zones, and reflexes on the foot correspond to the body parts in each of the zones. Charts provide easy diagrams to follow, and people are encouraged to learn reflexology techniques. The method is more than a foot massage, however, and requires practice.

A session with a reflexology therapist would begin with a verbal assessment to discover areas for concentration. For example, if the client has diabetes, the therapist would be sure to work the pituitary gland, liver, spleen, and pancreas, says Smith. Following the verbal assessment, the therapist works the foot with the thumb, searching for areas that need concentration.

"I take a person’s foot, push back their toes, and look for white bumps in their feet. Clients also tell me what is going on with them and that helps me analyze what to do with their feet," explains Smith. The bumps indicate calcium deposits that reflect where the circulatory system might be clogged and slowed down, she says.

It is very important to loosen and relax the foot before work begins, because many people don’t like to have their feet touched. A good reflexology session will last an hour and cost about $30 per foot. When looking for a reflexology therapist, contact massage therapists. Because many massage therapists practice the technique, they are a good place to start your search.

However, potential clients should ask where reflexology practitioners have studied, how long they have been practicing, and whether they are certified. Certification is not as important as a good education and longevity in the field because practice leads to perfection, says Smith. "A lot of times, massage therapists will massage the feet, but they don’t use the thumb to stimulate a reflex response," she explains.

Patient education mangers creating an information sheet on reflexology would want to explain what it is and how it works. A workshop that teaches people the basic techniques is a good way to have people practice stress management at home. "I recommend that families massage each others’ feet while watching TV. It helps people sleep better," says Smith.

For more information about reflexology, contact:

Catherine Smith, CMT, Reflexology Therapist, All Seasons Day Spa, 1422 28th St., Suite D, Sacramento, CA 95816. Telephone: (916) 737-7546.

More reflexology information can be found in the following books, available through the Web site

Better Health with Foot Reflexology by Dwight C. Byers, 1987, $24.95.

Hand and Foot Reflexology: A Self-Help Guide by Kevin Kunz, 1992, $10.40.

Reflexology, Art Science and History by Christine Issel, 1996, $17.95.

The Complete Guide to Foot Reflexology by Barbara Kunz, 1993, $15.95.

The Complete Illustrated Guide to Reflexology: Therapeutic Foot Massage for Health & Well-Being by Inge Dougans, 1996, $19.96.