Although most practitioners claim that reflexology or reflex zone therapy was practised several thousand years ago by both the Chinese and the Egyptians, modern reflexology was first introduced in the 1920s by an American physician called William Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald claimed to have discovered a relationship between ten different parts or zones of the body and ten matching zones on the feet. There are various different schools of reflexology in existence today but most base their findings on Dr Fitzgerald’s work.
According to Fitzgerald all the glands, organs and major nerves of the body have corresponding nerve endings in the toes and feet. Illness, claimed Fitzgerald, is caused by the accumulation of crystalline deposits around those nerve endings in the feet.
In order to make a diagnosis reflexologists examine their patients’ feet carefully and thoroughly, massaging and probing every inch of the sole of each foot. They claim that every corn and callous and sore place denotes some significant problem elsewhere (I have never yet met a reflexologist who takes into account the influence of ill-fitting shoes and socks).
Having diagnosed a problem, reflexologists claim that they can treat it by massaging the appropriate part of the appropriate foot.
They warn that their technique is so powerful that it can unsettle the hormonal balance of the body if over used and that patients with diabetes or thyroid disorders can find that their disease is sent temporarily out of control. They claim to be able to help patients with all sorts of problems but it has been said that their skills may be best suited to the treatment of the following: asthma, backache, poor circulation, tension, stiffness, sinus troubles, stammering and menstrual problems.
Cynics will note that the only thing all these disorders have in common is that they do tend to come and go by themselves.
Reflexology is unlikely to lead to any specific problems although as with other alternative forms of diagnosis there is, I believe, a risk that serious disorders may be missed.
A good foot massage is extremely soothing (and, surprisingly perhaps, does not necessarily tickle). The feet are well-endowed with nerve endings and they are frequently abused by too much walking and standing. By skilfully massaging a patient’s feet a reflexologist will be able to soothe and relax troubled muscles and tissues – as well as calming and relaxing the patient with careful concern and thoughtful conversation.
A reflexology session is likely to last between thirty minutes and one hour and it would be surprising if most patients did not feel better after lying down for that length of time.
In my view the real weakness of reflexology is its failure to take into account other pressures and forces which affect the condition of the foot.