Reflexology is a holistic system of applying manual pressure techniques to the feet, hands, and ears to favorably influence the recipient’s well-being. Practitioners follow charts that indicate which areas correspond to organs and systems of the body. Benefits can include generalized stress reduction, overall relaxation, and promotion of healing in specific areas of the body.

View Our Introductory Article


An Introduction to Reflexology

What do the feet, hands, and ears have in common? They all contain reflexology points that can help us feel better throughout our entire bodies.

What is reflexology and what does it do?

Reflexology is a method of applying pressure to these points using fingers, thumbs, and, sometimes, specialized tools. Reflexology encourages the body to seek homeostasis, which in simplest terms can be understood as optimal functioning for the whole person. There is also an emotional balancing component to reflexology; just as a stressful day at the office or hours stuck in traffic can lead to free-floating angst, reflexology can calm the so-called “monkey mind” and lead to the Relaxation Response.

How does reflexology work?

A single mechanism for reflexology’s efficacy has not been precisely identified, but because thousands of nerve endings exist in the soles of the feet, for example, and the central nervous system conveys information from the feet to the brain, it’s evident that the effects of localized reflexology can be far-reaching.

While reflexologists may incorporate massage-like techniques during a reflexology session, reflexology itself is distinct from massage therapy in that it makes use of energy pathways to help encourage the harmonious functioning of all bodily systems and organs. Most U.S. states recognize this distinction and carve out various exemptions to massage laws for practicing reflexologists.

A Thought Experiment on How Reflexology Works

The following thought experiment can help us understand how reflexology works in practical terms. Imagine wearing extremely uncomfortable shoes for an hour while playing basketball or tennis or performing some other activity that requires continued physical motion. At first, only the feet would feel the unpleasant effects of these ill-fitting shoes, but as the minutes dragged on, other aches and pains in the knees, hips, and back would likely emerge. Mental and psychological distress from enduring this unpleasant hour may also become apparent. 

Now consider the opposite scenario. Imagine wearing the perfect shoe for a given task, or walking barefoot on the beach, or just sitting with your feet up while relaxing. Foot reflexology expands on this principle in a focused way, bringing pleasant sensations to the feet to help us settle into a place of stillness and relaxation. Rather than the body aching and your mind racing at the end of an hour, changes in biochemistry and neural activity resulting from a reflexology session promote calmness, focus, and restoration.

Reflexology, Energy Pathways, and Qi

In Eastern traditions, the concept of qi—or life force moving through energy channels within the body—may help explain how the entire body can benefit from localized pressure on the feet, hands, and ears. Rather than agitating a person’s qi as in the first example with the poorly fitting shoes, reflexology nourishes qi and promotes homeostasis on all levels.

What is a reflexology chart?

Reflexology charts depict points and zones on the feet—or hands and ears—as relating to specific parts or systems of the body. Some points and referral areas on a given chart may not precisely match reflexology points and zones on other charts. But given that reflexology-like practices originated spontaneously in cultures ranging from ancient Egypt to pre-Columbian North America to various parts of Asia, it makes perfect sense that reflexology charts have some minor deviations.

As Christine Issel, professional reflexologist and author of Reflexology: Art, Science & History, writes: “The practice of foot work appears in a variety of cultures throughout history in different ages, and in sites far removed from each other.”

How does a reflexologist use a chart?

On most reflexology charts, the base of the big toe corresponds to the base of the neck, and the area on the pad of the foot below the small toe on a given foot corresponds to the shoulder on that side of the body. But these points are not “magic buttons” or directly wired to a given area in a conventional anatomical sense; instead, they offer reflexologists starting points to address recipient concerns within a larger, interdependent context. 

The more experienced a reflexologist becomes, the greater the ability to effectively use observation, experience, and intuition to tailor unique treatments to the specific needs of recipients while still using the chart as a guide in determining sequence, pressure, and duration.

Does reflexology hurt?

There may be moments of discomfort as the reflexologist works on certain points, but for the most part, reflexology helps the body trend toward relaxation. In turn, this helps the recipient let go of not only physical tension, but also emotional issues that may be affecting one’s overall state of well-being. There may be a few “ouch” moments in reflexology—just as there can be during massage therapy—but the cumulative result is almost always a more relaxed, less stressed person.

What can be treated with reflexology?

Reflexology is performed in certain medical settings, but generally speaking, reflexology is used more as an expansive therapy that promotes a healthy, holistic synergy rather than a targeted therapy aimed at treating or curing specific conditions. In fact, many reflexologists explicitly state they do not purport to treat or cure specific illnesses. Paradoxically, it is this broad-based, generalized approach that allows people from all walks of life to benefit from reflexology.

Reasons people seek out reflexology include:

  • Pain relief
  • Greater physical mobility
  • Improved sleep
  • Stress management
  • Emotional balancing
  • Generalized self-care

Dr. Brent A. Bauer, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Integrative Medicine and Health Research Program, says that several studies indicate reflexology may be capable of reducing both physical pain and stress-related psychological symptoms.

Can I do reflexology on myself?

Not only is self-reflexology doable, many reflexologists teach clients techniques they can apply to themselves between sessions.

Who should not receive reflexology?

Reflexology is generally safe for most individuals, but it may be contraindicated for things like recently broken bones, open wounds, and certain dermatological conditions. If you have questions about whether reflexology is right for you, ask your healthcare provider.

You Might Also Like Our Content on These Topics: Acupressure, Acupuncture, Energy Healing, MassageBodywork

Close Introductory Article
FindCenter Video Image

Pleasure Points in Reflexology for Foot Massages

Pleasure points in reflexology for foot massages will help decrease stress and increase pleasure.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

Acupressure and Reflexology For Dummies

Searching for alternative treatments for pain? This friendly, do-it-yourself guide introduces you to the basics and benefits of acupressure and reflexology, showing you step by step how to nurture your emotional and physical well-being and that of someone else.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

Reflexology of the Hands

Reflexology is commonly associated with the feet, while the possibilities of the hands are often overlooked. This is completely unjustified since hand reflexology is just as effective as foot reflexology.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

Why Reflexology?

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

Complete Reflexology for Life: Your Definitive Photographic Reference to the Best Techniques and Treatments

Written by Barbara and Kevin Kunz, world-renowned names in reflexology, this comprehensive guide teaches you how to work reflexology into your busy daily routine.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

All Work/All Play: Reflexology Finding Its Feet in a Modern World

To deal with the stress, Turner tried a technique that initially she was skeptical of: reflexology, an ancient practice of stimulating points on the feet to benefit other parts of the body.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

What Is Reflexology?

The Association of Reflexologists (AoR) was established in 1984 and is a not-for-profit organisation. Today it is the foremost aspirational and independent professional association for reflexology in the UK providing support for more than five thousand members across the UK and overseas.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

The Joy of Reflexology: Healing Techniques for the Hands and Feet to Reduce Stress and Reclaim Life

The ancient Chinese technique of reflexology is growing rapidly in popularity around the world. Author Ann Gillanders, one of the foremost leaders of the reflexology movement, presents a clear, step-by-step guide to this classic art of healing.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

What Is Reflexology? An Expert Gives Us the Scoop

While some might consider reflexology a fancy word for massage, it's actually much more than that. To learn more about this practice, we talked with Laura Norman, founder of the Laura Norman Wellness center and author of Feet First: A Guide to Foot Reflexology.

FindCenter AddIcon
FindCenter Video Image

The Reflexology Bible: The Definitive Guide to Pressure Point Healing

Find out how to give the healing touch! Reflexology is a safe and gentle therapy that combats stress, boosts the immune system, and stimulates our natural healing processes.

FindCenter AddIcon


FindCenter AlertIcon

The information offered here is not a substitute for professional advice. Please proceed with care and caution.