When I launched the BiG TOE I set up a Twitter feed and Facebook page alongside my website. Within a couple of days I was tweeted by a sceptic saying, “reflexology is ‘just’ a foot massage. There is no evidence at all for these claims. It’s entirely fantasy.” The sceptic went on to say I was breaching advertising laws with unevidenced health claims not supported by science.
Firstly I wasn’t breaching any advertising laws. I’m allowed to say that reflexology can help: improve sleep, release tension, improve mood, improve wellbeing and aid relaxation. My response seemed to silence the tweets but the sceptic’s not the first and won’t be the last of the non-believers.
I meet people on a regular basis who question reflexology and find it difficult to believe how it works. And I understand this. I found it difficult to get my head around how massaging reflex points on the foot can help to alleviate certain symptoms or show an imbalance in the body. However, as I meet more feet and what I’m seeing and feeling corresponds with what each individual is experiencing, I can’t help but believe in reflexology.
“How do you know that?” is the response I love when I ask if my client is suffering from digestive issues or has an earache they hadn’t told me before I started the treatment. This is what I believe in. How do I know that if reflexology isn’t real? I am definitely not a mind reader or attempting to moonlight as Derren Brown.
The moment I truly began to believe in reflexology was during my first training weekend and I was practicing on one of the other students on the course. Her right eye reflex felt really crunchy and I asked her about it. She said she hadn’t noticed anything with her eyes but she would go to the opticians that week to see if anything was going on. The next time I saw her, she said she had to have a new prescription, as her right eye had been over-strained. How could I possibly have known that if it wasn’t through reflexology?
It doesn’t always work like this. Some feet don’t want to show you anything. I met someone when I first started who was quite a closed book. She had been having regular reflexology elsewhere but her therapist was going on maternity leave and she needed to find someone new. When I first met her, she said that she was used to having excellent treatments and she would only come back if I could read her feet as well as her last reflexologist. The pressure was on! But I also wanted to be honest. I wasn’t going to make something up hoping she would come back and see me.
After the treatment, she asked me what I had found. I said that I couldn’t feel anything. I said she was quite guarded and therefore her feet weren’t showing me anything. She agreed with this whole-heartedly and became one of my first regular clients. Now when I see her, if she has a twinge in her back from overstretching in yoga or a cold is coming on, I can feel it on her feet. Both her and her feet have opened up to me in an extraordinary way and I love seeing her regularly.
Reflexology doesn’t just work on a physical level. I met someone the other day whose back reflex was out of balance. She wasn’t suffering from a huge amount of pain but when I asked her about it after the treatment she said she had been having niggles in her back recently but didn’t think it was worth mentioning. However, she was having a really hard time at work as she had just found out her role was about to end and there were no other opportunities for her or her boss in the company. Most of the staff were leaving and everyone was very unhappy.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) parts of our body can represent a feeling or emotion. Emotionally, our spine represents our support network. Obviously all back pain should be looked at by a Doctor but sometimes when nothing comes up in tests, it could be an emotional issue at the root and this can be felt through reflexology. My client was feeling unsupported and alone at work and I felt as though this is what I was picking up from her back reflex.
However these are all anecdotes. These are not research trials or case studies to help prove that reflexology works.
In 2000 The House of Lords Select Committee published a report on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) to give an in depth analysis of what was going on within this field. The Committee was very keen that there should be professional standards, registration and accountability in all aspects of CAM.
They described reflexology as:
“A system of massage of the feet based on the idea that there are invisible zones running vertically through the body, so that each organ has a corresponding location in the foot. It has also been claimed to stimulate blood supply and relieve tension.”
Within this report, all CAM therapies were divided into one of three groups and reflexology sits within Group Two: A complimentary therapy which lack a firm scientific basis and is not regulated to protect the public, but gives help and comfort to many people.
The lack of firm scientific basis is because, although there appears to be a lot of reflexology research within the profession, many of the published studies are flawed either by poor methodology, lack of sufficient randomisation or use too small trial numbers. More of the studies need to be repeated or replicated for the results to be validated and new studies need to be carried out with an emphasis on the methodology put in place. As reflexologists we need to understand what makes good and bad research so more of our hard work is taken into account as sufficient and valid evidence.
Many naysayers, like the sceptic I mentioned at the start, will say that science won’t support reflexology. As the trials have been of generally poor quality, systematic reviews will fail to demonstrate any health benefits. But I still believe! Looking for research I found The Association of Reflexology’s library of material and I chose one piece at random: “Reviewing the effect of reflexology on the pain and certain features and outcomes of the labour on the primiparous women.” (primiparous – a women who has borne only one child).
The quasi-experiential study took place in 2010 involving 88 women in an Iranian hospital aged between 18 and 36 years old. They were randomly split into two groups. Group 1 had reflexology for 60 minutes as they entered the active stage of labour. Group 2 did not receive any reflexology.
The results showed reflexology reduced the length of labour, labour pain intensity and postpartum haemorrhaging. The researchers concluded reflexology should be used in hospitals to help prevent the use of pharmacological methods and palliative medicines that could lead to side effects.
Good news! And this was just one research piece I chose from a database of 100’s.
I’m not going to change everyone’s opinions over night. The sceptics will still be demanding their scientific evidence and I hope one day we’ll be able to prove that on some level reflexology can really help. Until then, those who love having it and feel the benefits – keep on coming. And the sceptics, who are missing out what they presume is just a foot massage, why don’t you give it a try as well?
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