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Foot Reflexology: Myths and Facts About This Ancient Practice

cartoon of feet with lines pointing at different points and other organs such as eyes, lungs, heart surrounding it

Reflexology is a type of complementary and alternative medicine technique that dates back thousands of years. It involves applying pressure to specific points on the feet or hands to alleviate symptoms in various body systems, improve your general sense of well-being, and even provide palliative care to terminally ill patients. 

Please continue reading to discover more about this ancient art and what clinical research says about its effectiveness and safety. 

Where did foot reflexology originate?

Evidence suggests that the history of reflexology dates back to ancient civilizations in Egypt, China, and India. Several Native American tribes also used reflexology as a healing process. A form of reflexology called reflex zone therapy was practiced throughout Europe in the 14th century. Modern-day reflexology techniques are based on these ancient practices.

Who invented foot reflexology massage?

Dr. William Fitzgerald (1872-1942) is called the father of modern reflexology. He discovered reflex zone therapy practiced by Aboriginal Indians. Nowadays, reflexology is commonly offered by physical therapists and chiropractors as well as trained professionals who learn reflexology by completing a diploma course at an international institute. 

Is reflexology an alternative or complementary therapy?

Reflexology is a complementary therapy. The difference between alternative therapies and complementary therapies is that alternative therapies are offered instead of standard treatments, whereas complementary therapies are offered along with standard treatments. 

The best therapists who practice reflexology never claim to cure health conditions. They only say that reflexology works along with standard treatments to relieve symptoms originating in various bodily systems. 

What is the theory behind reflexology?

The theory behind reflexology is that different parts of the human body are connected to each other. Reflexology practitioners use reflex maps of the feet and hands to relieve pain and other symptoms in corresponding organs. They believe that when you apply pressure to reflex points on the feet and hands, other parts of the body are stimulated, energized, rejuvenated, and balanced. Therefore, pressure on specific points on the left foot and right foot can lead to a significant decrease in symptoms originating in other parts of the body.

Reflexology can help people dealing with serious health issues. However, it should be done in combination with and not instead of the standard treatment plan recommended by healthcare providers. 

The entire body can benefit from reflexology sessions, but massage of specific pressure points is particularly effective for pain reduction. It can also help in reducing stress and relieving conditions of the nervous system and endocrine system. A reflexology session may be combined with other techniques like aromatherapy and soft music for enhancing relaxation.

What are the different types of reflexology?

The original Ingham method of reflexology does not use any tools, while the Rwo Shur method involves applying pressure with a wooden stick. Reflex zone therapy is a technique in which the body is divided into ten longitudinal zones from head to toe. Lymphatic drainage reflexology helps to stimulate the flow of the lymph fluid, which can help to reduce swelling.

Is there any truth to foot reflexology? 

Foot reflexology massage is not a scientifically proven medical treatment for any disease. However, many studies have shown that it can be a useful complementary therapy. 

  • A study funded by the National Cancer Institute found that women with advanced breast cancer got relief from some symptoms following reflexology treatments compared to the control group. The study showed that reflexology is safe even for extremely fragile cancer patients.
  • Evidence suggests that reflexology may be helpful in reducing the prickling or burning sensation commonly experienced by patients with multiple sclerosis.

Is reflexology foot massage safe? 

Reflexology treatment is low-risk and may be a reasonable option if you're seeking symptom relief. The key benefits of reflexology include:

  • Drug-free and chemical-free treatment.
  • May benefit many different health conditions.
  • Can help to reduce pain, improve mobility, and promote a general sense of well-being and relaxation.

Are reflexology sessions painful?

Many patients find that foot reflexology sessions are soothing and relaxing. But applying pressure on certain pressure points can be uncomfortable or even slightly painful for some people. Reflexologists say discomfort indicates there is a blockage to energy flow which the reflexology session can help open up. 

Foot reflexology treatment relieves symptoms of which conditions? 

There is no strong scientific evidence that reflexology can cure any health condition. However, reflexology stimulates certain pressure points related to different body parts. Several studies indicate that reflexology may help to:

  • Reduce pain.
  • Reduce psychological symptoms like stress and anxiety.
  • Enhance relaxation.
  • Improve sleep. 
  • Reduce swelling.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Manage back pain.
  • Reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.
  • Improve digestion and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Relieve symptoms associated with nervous system conditions like diabetic peripheral neuropathy and multiple sclerosis
  • Help with symptoms of asthma and other respiratory problems.
  • Relieve bladder problems and period pain.

Who should not get reflexology treatment?

Reflexology treatments are generally safe, even for babies and severely ill patients. But people with the following medical history should avoid foot reflexology. Talk to your healthcare provider before getting a reflexology massage if you have the following:

  • Foot fractures.
  • Active gout in the foot.
  • Osteoarthritis of the foot or ankle.
  • Unhealed wounds or skin inflammation in the feet.
  • Vascular disease of the feet or legs.

Myths and facts about reflexology treatment foot massage

Myth: Reflexology can diagnose or cure medical conditions.

Fact: Reflexology is not an alternative therapy. It is a complementary therapy that should be used alongside standard treatments to relieve symptoms related to health problems.

Myth: Reflexology is a modern-day wellness fad.

Fact: Reflexology is an ancient form of alternative medicine that dates back thousands of years. 

Myth: Children should not get reflexology treatments.

Fact: Reflexology is safe for all age groups, including babies and young children. 

Myth: There’s no science behind reflexology.

Fact: Large systematic reviews do not indicate that reflexology can cure health conditions. But there is scientific evidence that the application of pressure on certain pressure points can reduce pain, relieve stress, reduce swelling, and promote a general sense of well-being.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4624523/
  2. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/reflexology