is a technique in which pressure is applied to specific
points on the feet (and sometimes the hands) to promote
relaxation and improve overall health. Proponents of reflexology
believe that the foot surface contains a coded map of the
entire body and that particular points on the feet correspond
to particular organs, glands, and body systems. Pressing
these points with the fingers and thumbs is thought to encourage
healthy functions in the corresponding areas of the body.
The precise origins of reflexology are obscure, but ancient
illustrations and other records reveal that Chinese, Indian,
and Egyptian peoples worked on the hands and feet to foster
good health. Modern reflexology grew out of a technique
known as "zone therapy," which was developed in the early
1900s by American physician and ear, nose, and throat specialist
William H. Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald claimed that applying
gentle pressure to specific areas on the hands and feet
could trigger health benefits in corresponding "zones" of
the body. In the 1930s, Eunice Ingham, a physical therapist
and a colleague of Fitzgerald, took the therapy, further
postulating that working on just the feet (not the hands)
was the best way to affect the health of the rest of the
Ingham contributed a crucial tool to the discipline: She
drew up detailed "maps" of the feet that showed exactly
how particular parts of the foot relate to other body parts.
She found, for example, that the toes correspond to the
head and neck; that the balls of the feet reflect the lungs,
heart and chest; that points on the right foot relate to
the right side of the body and that points on the left foot
relate to the left; and so on. Charts based on her maps
are still used by reflexologists today. How Does It Work?
Exactly how reflexology works remains unclear, although
several possible explanations have been put forward.
One is that the body contains an invisible life force, or
subtle energy, similar to the concept of qi in traditional
Chinese medicine. When this energy is blocked, illness can
result. The nervous system provides a "keyboard" to access,
control, and release the subtle energy patterns. It is thought
that stimulating some of the more than 7,000 nerve endings
on the foot can unblock and increase the flow of this vital
energy to various parts of the body and thus promote healing.
The reflexology theory is consistent with the theory behind
acupuncture and acupressure, in which mapped points on body
parts such as the ear or hand are treated to affect corresponding
remote organs or body zones.
A more conventional medical theory suggests that the pressure
exerted by reflexologists releases nerve transmitter chemicals
such as endorphins and monoamines, compounds that control