How does reflexology on feet really work?
March 27, 2010 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Feet in massage - how do it know?

I was at my mum's reflexology party, and I got my feet done before I went to work. It felt amazing. But because that morning I had a hangover, it helped tremendously, and I felt a million times better - but I didn't feel perfect. My mum's friend (the masseuse) tried to explain what parts of the body corresponded to which part of the foot, it got me a bit confused. How does this work? How does a part of the foot correspond to part of the body? Wondering, thank you!
posted by tenkarasu to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It doesn't.
posted by aheckler at 9:55 AM on March 27, 2010

It doesn't.

And from here:

The practice of reflexology postulates a correspondence between specific "zones" on the hands and feet which, when pressed, can heal ailments in other parts of the body. But it, too, has been tested and failed. A recent study in Complementary Therapies in Medicine proved that reflexologists were unable to identify specific illnesses in patients, and another in Respiratory Medicine revealed that reflexology fared no better than a placebo in curing bronchial asthma. But the 25,000-member International Institute of Reflexology in St. Petersburg, Fla., remains unconvinced.

My guess is that any kind of massage just makes you feel better in general.
posted by cooker girl at 9:57 AM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Reflexology as we know it began with a theory by William Fitzgerald, M.D. (you can see some of his book on Google Books). He divided the body into zones, and called his theory Zone Therapy. Following that, Eunice Ingham corresponded the zones to the feet, and a student of Ingham (Mildred Carter) promoted reflexology as a cure for physical ailments.

I would guess that the masseuse was trying to describe the zones as they believe they correspond with the foot. Often you will see posters showing this (such as this one). Searching for these key words in Google images will show you more: body zone chart reflexology.
posted by Houstonian at 10:25 AM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

As the others have said, reflexology has been disproven as scientifically valid. However, the foot massage might have helped you feel more relaxed, which may have helped with some of the symptoms of your hangover. This would explain why you felt somewhat better, but not 100%.
posted by ishotjr at 10:56 AM on March 27, 2010

*Also, did there happen to be food or drinks (non-alcoholic ones) at this reflexology party? That might explain your improvement as well.
posted by ishotjr at 10:57 AM on March 27, 2010

What everybody else said. Also note that if putting pressure on the soles of the feet could affect your health, walking around would probably fuck you up.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:41 AM on March 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

[few comments removed - please chill out and take fights to email or metatalk]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:08 AM on March 29, 2010

My wife and I have been very happily relying on the benefits of targeted foot pressure for definite and long-lasting help with a host of not-in-the-feet discomforts for the last 35 years.

We have (and need) no theories about why it works, and haven't found charts or correspondence maps to be useful, accurate, or consistent. We don't do it because we believe in it or because we studied with any reflexologists (we didn't); we do it because it's useful, free, and instantly available. So I offer our anecdotal reports not in direct answer to the original question about why this could work—don't know—nor to dispute the findings in the sources offered—can't imagine actually curing anything serious with a foot rub. I'm bothering to post simply to encourage the OP to continue exploring the benefits foot rubbing can offer if he/she finds this interesting, and to clarify some apparent misconceptions about the practice in other posts, based only on our experiences.

The massages we give one another are not generalized or overall, altho those are certainly soothing, relaxing and pleasant without offering any specific symptom relief. They're about finding very precise locations around the feet and toes where focused firm pressure from a thumb, knuckle or a rounded, hard object has a very palpable relieving effect on very specific discomforts or symptoms elsewhere. Moving the point of pressure a half-inch away can totally change the results, usually in the direction of no longer been felt as useful. Locating the useful points and regulating the amounts of pressure is entirely based on feedback from the rub-ee, and the correspondence between points and symptoms that we've discovered for each other has remained consistent, but is not exactly similar between us. It seems to us not so much to be that foot points refer to body parts as that certain foot points refer to specific discomforts.

We've found such targeted pressure to offer substantial and immediate improvement and often complete relief with menstrual cramping, a wide range of digestive, eliminative and respiratory discomforts, and my wife finds it very helpful, temporarily, with glaucoma-related eye pain. There are certainly some discomforts we don't find this helpful with, and we don't deny that there's often a simultaneous and very agreeable sense of overall feeling better which could come from simple relaxation.

We make no attempt to make a science of our practice, but OTOH no amount of scientific disbelief, scoffing, or quoting findings seems to have any bearing on whether we should continue with it, or even raises the question. Experiment with it yourself, if your beliefs will permit.
posted by dpcoffin at 11:07 AM on March 29, 2010

Also note that if putting pressure on the soles of the feet could affect your health, walking around would probably fuck you up
It does. There is a lot of valid research about how problems with your feet can affect the rest of the body; it follows that helping your feet helps the rest of you, too. I don't understand why people want to fragment the body instead of looking at it as a whole.
posted by purpletangerine at 1:15 PM on March 29, 2010

It would be great if you could link some. For one thing, I can't understand from your comment if you are talking about mechanical problems like poor posture or trouble with walking or things like what the OP is talking about, where foot massages can cure your hangover.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:15 PM on March 29, 2010

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