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File:Foot Chart1 small.png

An example of a reflexology chart, demonstrating the areas of the feet that practitioners believe correspond with organs in the "zones" of the body.

File:Reflexology of the Hand.JPG

An example of a reflexology chart of the Hand, demonstrating the areas of the hand that practitioners believe correspond with organs in the "zones" of the body.

Reflexology (zone therapy) is an alternative medicine method involving the practice of massaging or applying pressure to parts of the feet, or sometimes the hands and ears, with the goal of encouraging a beneficial effect on other parts of the body, or to improve general health.[citation needed]

The Reflexology Association of Canada defines reflexology as: A natural healing art based on the principle that there are reflexes in the feet, hands and ears and their referral areas within zone related areas, which correspond to every part, gland and organ of the body. Through application of pressure on these reflexes without the use of tools, crèmes or lotions, the feet being the primary area of application, reflexology relieves tension, improves circulation and helps promote the natural function of the related areas of the body. [1]

There is no consensus among reflexologists on how reflexology is supposed to work; a unifying theme is the idea that areas on the foot correspond to areas of the body, and that by manipulating these one can improve health through one's qi.[2]

Concerns have been raised by medical professionals that treating potentially serious illnesses with reflexology, which has no proven efficacy, could delay the seeking of appropriate medical treatment.[3] A systematic review of the efficacy of reflexology found one study showing a statistically significant effect in the treatment of urinary symptoms in multiple sclerosis patients. All other conditions reviewed in this study showed no evidence of any specific effect.[4]

Claimed mechanisms of operation

Reflexologists posit that the blockage of an energy field, invisible life force, or Qi, can prevent healing.[2] Another tenet of reflexology is the belief that practitioners can relieve stress and pain in other parts of the body through the manipulation of the feet.[5] These hypotheses are rejected by the general medical community, who cite a lack of scientific evidence and the well-tested germ theory of disease.[6]

Many civilizations have practiced reflexology. Evidence of this has been documented on four continents: Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America. The most common theory is that the earliest form of reflexology originated in China, as much as 5000 years ago. The early Taoists are credited with originating many Chinese health practises.

The Cherokee tribes of North America to this day practise a form of reflexology that they continue to pass from generation to generation.

Reflexology travelled across India, Japan, Asia, and China. Traditional East Asian foot reflexology is called Zoku Shin Do. This is the foot portion of the Japanese massage technique. The roots of Zoku Shin Do go back to ancient China and are over 5000 years old.

Many changes took place in zone therapy, or reflexology, as new knowledge was added. In China, reflexology reached a new level. The practice of acupressure using the fingers turned into the practice of acupuncture using needles. The study of the reflex points still existed, but the knowledge was linked or added to and taken in a new direction—the direction of meridians. The Chinese concept of meridian therapy is an important part of the foundation of reflexology.[7]

The precise relationship between the ancient art practiced by the early Egyptians and reflexology as we know it today is unclear because different practices involving the manipulation of the feet to effect health have been used throughout the world.

The precursor of modern reflexology was introduced to the United States in 1913 by William H. Fitzgerald, M.D. (1872–1942), an ear, nose, and throat specialist, and Dr. Edwin Bowers. Fitzgerald claimed that applying pressure had an anesthetic effect on other areas of the body.[8]

Reflexology was further developed in the 1930s and 1940s by Eunice D. Ingham (1889–1974), a nurse and physiotherapist.[9][10] Ingham claimed that the feet and hands were especially sensitive, and mapped the entire body into "reflexes" on the feet. It was at this time that "zone therapy" was renamed reflexology.

Modern reflexologists in the United States and the United Kingdom often learn Ingham's method first, although there are more recent methods.[6]

Voluntary regulation of reflexologists

In the United Kingdom, reflexology is now regulated on a voluntary basis by the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). The standards of competence required for registration include not just reflexology techniques but also hands on practice, anatomy and physiology, business, legal and ethical issues. Registrants must have full public and professional liability insurance and annual continuing professional development is a condition of re-registration. The CNHC's procedures for regulation and its work are supported by the UK Department of Health.
Note: As registration with the CNHC is voluntary anyone may still practise the discipline and describe themselves as reflexologists, and no evidence of the efficacy of the techniques of reflexology is required for such registration. (The same applies to all other disciplines being "regulated" by the CNHC.)


A 2009 systematic review of randomised controlled trials concluded that the latest available evidence does not show convincingly that reflexology is an effective treatment for any medical condition.[11]


Common criticisms of reflexology are the lack of central regulation, accreditation and licensing, the lack of medical training provided to reflexologists, and the short duration of training programmes. Diplomas in reflexology can be attained with as little as six months of home study;[12] and the lack of licensing and regulation allows anyone to practice as a reflexologist, with no qualifications.

Reflexology's claim to manipulate energy (Qi) has been controversial, as there is no scientific evidence for the existence of life energy (Qi), 'crystalline structures,' or 'pathways' in the body.[13]

Reflexology in the media

An episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (1-02 Alternative Medicine) (February 7, 2003) featured a segment on reflexology.

See also


  1. Standards of Practice, Code of Ethics & Code of Conduct. (doc) Reflexology Association of Canada. URL accessed on 2009-07-14.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Norman, Laura; Thomas Cowan (1989). The Reflexology Handbook, A Complete Guide, 22, 23, Piatkus.
  3. Reflexology. National Council Against Health Fraud. URL accessed on 2007-01-27.
  4. Wang MY, Tsai PS, Lee PH, Chang WY, Yang CM (June 2008). The efficacy of reflexology: systematic review. J Adv Nurs 62 (5): 512–20.
  5. What is Reflexology?. URL accessed on 2006-11-26.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Natural Standard. Harvard Medical School. URL accessed on January 27 2007.
  7. One Step Beyond: History of Reflexology, author Master Helen Whysong.
  8. Norman, Laura; Thomas Cowan (1989). The Reflexology Handbook, A Complete Guide, 17, Piatkus.
  9. Benjamin, Patricia (1989). Eunice D. Ingham and the development of foot reflexology in the U.S. American Massage Therapy Journal.
  10. Presents History of Massage, Therapies & Rules. (pdf) URL accessed on 2007-10-12.
  11. Ernst E (2009). Is reflexology an effective intervention? A systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Med J Aust 191 (5): 263–6.
  12. The Open College reflexology diploma course. URL accessed on 2007-11-17.
  13. Barrett, Stephen Reflexology: A close look. Quackwatch. URL accessed on 2007-10-12.

External links

Professional bodies and organisations

Critical websites

Overviews, including of scientific evidence

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