Reflexology: Can a simple foot massage really cure illnesses?

|     Sabine Meuter     |

WASHINGTON (dpa) – As the physiotherapist’s hands gently glide over the sole of the patient’s foot, he reaches the top of the heel and presses hard.

The patient reacts by distorting her face.

“Are you currently experiencing constipation?” the physio asks.

The patient nods. The physio places his hands on her heel again and begins to work on the spot. Doing so will supposedly stimulate intestinal activity, helping relieve her constipation.

But how does pressure on the foot relate to the intestines? According to the theory behind foot reflexology, all of the organs in the body are connected to the foot via energy pathways.

Diseases and disorders can be detected by simply looking at the respective zones on the sole of the foot. For example, the skin tissue may be hardened.

Foot reflexology divides the sole of the foot into zones. “The big toe is the contact point to the head,” explains Dagmar Schlaubitz, a physiotherapist from Budeheim, Germany.

During a reflexology massage, certain points are stimulated with gentle pressure and rubbing.

According to the theory behind foot reflexology, all of the organs in the body are connected to the foot via energy pathways
According to the theory behind foot reflexology, all of the organs in the body are connected to the foot via energy pathways
The massages leave patients feeling relaxed and pleasantly tired. - PHOTOS: DPA
The massages leave patients feeling relaxed and pleasantly tired. – PHOTOS: DPA

This is intended to relieve tension and pain in troubled organs.

However: “It is not scientifically proven that these foot reflex zones even exist,” says Rainer Brenke, a physician. The effectiveness of foot reflexology has not been adequately documented.

But according to Schlaubitz, these techniques are used with great success.

“Migraines, tooth and facial pain can all be positively influenced by putting pressure on particular areas of the big toe,” she says.

The massage technique also stimulates blood circulation in the feet.

Even Brenke admits there are benefits: “Just because scientific proof of efficacy is lacking, that does not mean it is not effective.”

It is largely undisputed that foot reflexology massages increase the overall well-being of a patient.

The massages leave patients feeling relaxed and pleasantly tired, explains Lutz Hertel, a psychologist and chairman of the German Wellness Association.

However, if the massages are too painful, individuals might experience increased bladder and bowel activity, and even impairment of the circulatory system.

Almost anyone can try foot reflexology, but it is strongly advised that individuals with athlete’s foot, open wounds or inflamed veins steer clear of a massage.

And it’s important to opt for a specially trained physiotherapist, who is certified and frequently renews their certification, explains Hanne Marquardt, who is considered the leading representative of foot reflexology in Germany.

Treatments should last no longer than 30 to 40 minutes, followed by a rest period.