So much more than a foot massage
September marks World Reflexology Week, so is it time we started looking down to feel a little more up?
Leonardo da Vinci said the human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art. Looking down at my feet, I am not sure I would describe them quite as a work of art, but through reflexology our feet can tell us a lot about our body.
Reflexology is a non-invasive complementary therapy based on the theory that different points on the feet, hands and even ears correspond with different areas of the body. We have over 7,000 nerve endings in our feet, so it’s not surprising that when we tread on something it can hurt. Reflexologists follow a foot map and believe that working these different points aids relaxation and improves wellbeing.
Its origins are unknown. What is known is that it was used in ancient Chinese medicine and a form of foot therapy was used by the Egyptians. It reimerged in 1915 when an article – ‘To stop that toothache, squeeze your toe’ – was published on the work of Dr William Fitzgerald, and today is very much in demand.
‘It is very relaxing particularly when so many people suffer from stress,’ explains Nicola Hall, chairman of the British Reflexology Association. ‘It’s excellent for stress related conditions. It can alleviate migraines, back aches and hormonal problems. Clients that come regularly for maintenance find they get very few symptoms of the menopause.’
Reflexologists cannot diagnose
specific conditions, but will pick up areas of the body that are ‘out of balance’ by feeling the different reflex points. This can manifest in different ways, sometimes as pain, sharpness or stiffness. ‘It generally relates to something the person already knows,’ Nicola says. ‘Most people that turn to reflexology have already had a medical diagnosis before they start. It’s often very good for pain relief and helping to reduce inflammation. Those with arthritic conditions may find their joints are a bit more mobile after treatment and not so painful,’ adds Nicola, who has practised for over 40 years. She credits the rise in reflexology with people being more aware of their health. ‘If people have had good results they come at intervals to maintain their health.’ Of course there could be a placebo effect, but in a 2013 study researchers at the University of Portsmouth found that people felt nearly 40 per cent less pain when they used reflexology as a method of pain relief.
Tracey Smith of the Association of Reflexologists believes people are drawn to the holistic therapy as unlike massage it involves little removal of clothing – all you need to do is remove your socks. It is also face to face so conversation can easily take place. ‘This can be relaxing and also releasing, it can be amazing what problems or history can be talked about during a session if the client wants to,’ she says. For those who can’t bear their feet being touched, in the past few years facial reflexology has become more popular. ‘The face is thought to be particularly useful because the nerves are so close to the brain,’ Tracey explains.
Dawn Fortune turned to reflexology as an alternative when her baby was breach and was told that she would have to have him turned or face a caesarean. After a few sessions her baby had turned and she was able to give birth naturally. She was sold on the therapy and decided to train as a practitioner herself treating clients from as young as two years.
‘It has achieved amazing things over the years. People that can’t sleep are now sleeping, periods have returned to a pain free cycle, people suffering from stress and anxiety learn to relax,’ she says.
‘If there is a medical condition you need to go to your doctor, but reflexology is being used now quite a lot by the medical profession for palliative care and those with cancer – it’s a good way of helping clients through these stressful times where you need to relax and heal.’
An Egyptian hieroglyphic panel showing a form of foot therapy
Reflexology can solve many ailments in the body
ABOVE: With thousands of nerve endings, the foot is a complex part of the body