Reflexology: A Natural Pain Reliever

Do you find yourself rubbing your feet at the end of a long hard day or clenching your hands when you're stressed? If so, then you're already practicing some of the basic principles of reflexology.

Reflexologists believe that specific areas on each hand and foot correspond to a part of the body.

"By applying pressures to the hands and feet, reflexology therapists believe that they can increase the body's capacity to heal itself by stimulating a reflex response in a specific area of the body," says Nicole Nisly, MD, who heads the UI Hospitals and Clinics Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clinic.

The formal practice of reflexology began in the mid-1930s and since then, people all around the world have used the technique to relieve stress and tension, boost nerve function, and improve circulation.

The stress-reducing sessions with a reflexologist usually last 30 to 60 minutes. During that time, the therapist will typically begin by identifying tender spots and gently rubbing them. More firm pressure may follow at certain points. Some reflexologists also may be drawn to discolorations on your hands, feet, or ear lobes, which may correspond to the area in which you feel pain.

According to Nisly, patients will seek reflexology for relief from back and neck pain, headaches, compulsive eating, muscle spasms, chronic infection, and anxiety. Although scientific data on the measurable benefits of reflexology are still in its infancy, it has a good safety profile, and most receiving reflexology can attest to the relaxing effect that a treatment can produce.

A licensed therapist can perform reflexology, or you can perform some of the very basic techniques yourself by learning through workshops or from books in your local library or bookstore.

University of Iowa Health Science Relations
Department of Internal Medicine