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What is Reflexology?

Image of foot being massagedManual massages of the feet are usually experienced as relaxing and it is therefore not surprising that they were used in various ancient cultures. But reflexology is different. It is based on assumptions by William Fitzgerald who, in the early twentieth century, postulated that the body is divided into ten vertical zones, each represented by part of the foot. Fitzgerald developed maps of the soles of the feet showing which areas correspond to which inner organs.

Reflexologists take a brief medical history and then manually investigate the foot. If they feel a resistance in one area they are likely to diagnose a problem with the corresponding organ. The therapy then consists of a high-pressure massage at this point, which is believed to repair the function of the troubled organ and ultimately to improve the patient’s health or prevent illness. One session may last half an hour, and a series of treatments may consist of ten or more sessions. In the absence of any health problems, many therapists recommend regular maintenance sessions for disease prevention.

What is the Evidence?

The postulated reflex pathways between a certain area of the foot and an inner organ do not exist, and the notion that resistance in one area of the foot is a reliable indicator for a problem with a certain organ (e.g. kidney) is unfounded. Hence, the technique is not biologically plausible. Moreover, several different versions of reflexology maps exist – reflexologists cannot even agree among themselves how to apply the treatment. Clinical trials have shown that reflexology has no diagnostic value. Its effectiveness in treating certain health problems has been tested repeatedly. Even though the results have not been uniform, they generally do not demonstrate convincingly that this therapy is effective. There is also no evidence that regular reflexology might prevent diseases.

People with bone or joint conditions of the feet or lower legs might be harmed by the often forceful pressure applied during treatment. Otherwise no serious risks are known.

The notion that reflexology can diagnose health problems has been disproved and there is no convincing evidence that it can treat any condition. Reflexology is expensive and offers nothing more than could be achieved from a simple, relaxing foot massage.

For More Information:

This extract is taken from “Trick or Treatment?” (Transworld), a book that contains a series of 1-page summaries looking at the evidence for and against a range of alternative therapies. The authors of the book are Simon Singh (founder of the Good Thinking Society) and Edzard Ernst (the world’s first professor of complementary medicine