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September 21, 2010

For the general entry on Alternative Medicine, click here

The Claim

Reflexology refers to the massage of certain areas of the foot, and sometimes the hands, to improve health in other areas of the body. First proposed as “Zone Therapy” by William H. Fitzgerald in 1913 and later standardized as foot reflexology by Eunice D. Ingham, the practice purports most often to lessen stress and relieve tension in specific areas of the body corresponding to specific areas on the foot or hand. Many practitioners also make claims of being able to predict future problems in organs or systems that are currently symptom free.

Reflexology is one of a host of alternative medical practices that suggest that one part of the body contains a map of the human being that the reflexologist can interact with in order to affect other parts of the body. Acupuncture, iridology, the study of the iris of the eye, and phrenology, the use of the landscape of the skull to predict health problems, all work under the same assumption.


The proposal that the foot has connections to all parts of the body and can affect different organ systems has no basis in modern physiology. Nerves which are found in the foot only travel between the motor and sensory parts of the brain which affect the foot and no other organ system. The energy or toxins that reflexologists purport to release has never been substantiated or described in any way. Reflex in human physiology represent a close loop between sensory and motor parts of a neuronal pathway. Therapeutic claims made by reflexiologists cannot be explained by any of the reflexes known to modern science.

Two systemic reviews of all of the clinical trials of reflexology concluded that there is no evidence that the practice is any better than non-professional foot massage and is no better than placebo for any of the claims that have been tested. The lack of predictability which has been described in studies by William T. Jarvis, PhD, is often side-stepped when reflexologists claim to be describing future problems in an organ system; claims which remain untested and which defy practical study design.


Reflexology feels good, just like a foot massage feels good, but there is no evidence that it cures any specific condition. The claim that it unblocks energy flows or releases toxins is unsupported by modern physiology and biochemistry. Reflexology remains stuck in a pre-scientific world view that uses wishful thinking to justify its claims.


Wang MY, Tsai PS, Lee PH, Chang WY, Yang CM. The efficacy of reflexology: systematic review. J Adv Nurs. 2008 Jun;62(5):512-20. Accessed Nov 1 2010.

E. Earnst. Is reflexology an effective intervention? A systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Med J Aust. 2009 Sep 7;191(5):263-6. Accessed Nov 1 2010

Klenerman, Leslie, Wood, Bernard A. , Griffon , Nicole L. The human foot: a companion to clinical studies. Birkhäuser, 2005

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 18, 2016 6:30 AM

    I am a reflexologist and have run hospital workshops in teaching hospitals in England.. They included skeptics like yourself.

    They proved to be the best practitiopners in my workshops.

    I have done thermal Image camera work which IMMEDIATELY shows blood flow improvement whilst I stimulate the feet (pressure-point stimulation)

    Everybody reacts to touch – from birth.


    Because we have been built that way.

    In its various forms of touch, which we all need, we react.

    In reflexology, this reaction occurs through the Autonomic Nervous system: you cannot stop the reaction.

    You, yourself react to touch: be it a gentle touch from a loved one, a massage, a punch, an unhappy life experience – this is a reaction. There are many examples – too many to note.

    If you can understand your body you will see how your body reacts to life experiences. The body is a walking treasure trove of indicators showing externaslly and internally the medical help it needs – both allopathic and Complementary.

    This therapy has been practised since ancient times and had bees clinically used throughout the world in hospitals

    On what basis do YOU poo poo it: have YOU ever had it done on you?

    If yes, how experienced and qualified was the practitioner? This is also relevant.

    I have been in practise for over 20 years: I have run hospital workshops for over 4 years at a major teaching hospital.

    Try doing reflkexology using thermal image cameras as I did and you’ll see immediate heat changes unless the body part being stimulated tghrough the feet is so stressed. If that IS the case you have to work (stimulate) a different body part.

    By the way: an old question?

    Why the feet?

    Because Eunice Ingham, a physiotherapist (she drew up the foot-body diagram) knew that the feet were sensitive and reacted/responded to touch – like yours would.

    If you say your feet are ticklisklish, this could be an emotional response to fear from something long ago.

    You may be holding on to emotions you haven’t released: many people do this.

    Working the solar pllexus pressurte-point area on the feet, and the endocrine system pressure-points, and even include foot massge, will help release the stress of this holding on.

    This is related to acupuncture and shiatsu – both accepted and practised widely because the “Ancients” KNEW and UNDERSTOOD the body way back then.

    Their knowledge was vast on the body and its functioning.

    I realise this is a long e-mail reply but I stumbled on to this by accident.

    I was looking for reflexology and biochemistry.


    I have spoken to a biovhemist to help me/join me in a project to investigate the biochemical changews in the body when pressure is applied to the feedt – at cellular level.

    She understood and agreed to help me in my project if.

    Maybe I should give YOU a few treatments – if yhou are in Cyprus, that is?!

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