Effects of Reflexology
Through stimulation of reflex areas we can profoundly affect general homeostasis, as we
have access to vascular and lymphatic circulation, to the nervous system and to the energy systems of the body through their pathways (meridians).
1. Vascular and Lymphatic Circulation:
In Japan research has demonstrated that Reflexology can double the speed of circulation in the legs (Reflexions, 1990). Clinical experience backs up these results consistently -
Reflexology reduces fluid retention even in patients confined to a wheel chair. Significant results obtained in a small clinical trial conducted by three Australian nurses showed that therapeutic foot massage lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure, lowered pulse and caused peripheral vasodilation of the hands (Lockhart, 1992).
2. Neurophysiological Response:
Therapeutic touch or pressure applied therapeutically to the feet and hands has a huge impact on the central nervous system. Vernon Mountcastle, neurophysiologist, is quoted as saying “Our confrontation with the world occurs through a brain that is linked to what is out there by a few million fragile sensory nerve fibres, our only information channels, our lifelines to reality. They also provide what is essential for life itself: An afferent excitation that maintains the conscious state, the awareness of self" (Tuchscherer, 1996).
There are millions and millions of touch receptors (i.e.: Meissner's corpuscle) in the surfaces of the feet and hands and there is more space dedicated to these receptors in the cortex of the brain than to any other part of the body! Two other specialised receptors may contribute to the efficacy of Reflexology. Ruffini end organs and pacinian corpuscles respond to pressure and vibration and regulate our body position and posture. Interestingly, Ruffini end organs are found in high numbers on the soles of the feet. Both these receptors are pain suppressive. Their spinal circuitry is related to the Gate Theory of pain control. As activity levels in Ruffini and pacinian receptors increases, activity in tracts carrying information about tissue damage decreases.
Therapeutic touch also causes the release of Substance P and subsequently the release of encephalin which as opiates are one thousand times more potent than morphine. Substance P has recently also been shown to activate certain immune system response. Neurophysiology is complex and we are only beginning to understand it. Psycho-neuro-immunologists are now trying to understand the relationship between the nervous system and the immune system and the endocrine system. Perhaps future research will throw more light on how Reflexology fits into the picture.
Clinical studies aside, anecdotal information and case studies conducted by practitioners and advanced students of Reflexology all indicate similar effects which point to more balanced nervous and endocrine activity:
- deep relaxation
- improved sleep
- a greater sense of wellbeing
- decreased heart rate
- deeper and more relaxed respiration
- increased efficiency of digestion
- reduction in mood swings
- increased energy levels
- decreased anxiety levels
3. Balancing Energy Pathways:
Many therapies base their healing ability on unblocking or balancing energy pathways in the body. For thousands of years Traditional Chinese Medicine has treated disease successfully through acupuncture. Fine needles are placed a specific points along these pathways or meridians to treat anything from PMS to joint pain. Acupuncture is also used in Chinese hospitals instead of conventional anaesthesia. It is recognised that some of the most important acupuncture points are situated in the hands and feet.
In Reflexology we apply pressure to the whole foot and/or hand and to all identifiable tender reflexes in order to bring about an optimum state of homeostasis. In the process meridian points are also stimulated and research has indicated that meridian energy can be normalised whether it be under or over energised through this form of stimulation (Dale, 1977).
As previously mentioned Reflexology is especially relaxing. Mention foot massage to most people and they will comment on this aspect. The relaxation response however is more profound with reflexology than with a mere "foot rub". Reflex therapies have been studied by medical scientists since the 1800's in Russia and in Austria and later in the USA. It has been generally noted that tension in one part of the body or even in a specific organ is reflected as tension in the corresponding reflex area in all the microsystems ie: feet, hands, ears, eyes, face and so on.
Reflexology has the ability to relax this tense tissue which in turn relaxes the related body area or organ. This enables a freer flow of blood, nerve impulses and energy to and from the area and so creating an optimum situation for healing to occur.
5. Touch:6. Other Effects:
Touch alone is therapeutic. It is an essential component of life for an infant and is no less important for adults. Touch reaches through the isolation often experienced by those in pain to convey love, respect, acceptance, trust and warmth. In a medical situation the feet or hands are usually easily available for the application of Reflexology and the techniques are non-invasive and non-threatening. The patient does not have to undress or alter position in bed and most people love having their feet massaged.
Aside from those already mentioned many positive effects resulting from the use of reflexology have been documented. These are some of the most common ones:
- pain relief
- lowering of blood sugar levels
- reduction in PMT symptoms
- improved bladder control (even in paralysed patients)
- improved bowel function
- relief from migraines
- helps with anxiety and depression
- improves thyroid function
- relieves mucous congestion
- reduces inflammation
- reduces foot pain and improves foot mobility
- reduces agitation and restlessness associated with dementia
- improves kidney function