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What is Reflexology?

Reflexology is a holistic treatment based on the principle that there are areas and points on the feet, hands, and ears that map via the nervous system to corresponding parts of the body. When pressure is applied to these areas and points it stimulates the movement of energy along the nerve channels, and helps to restore homeostasis (balance) in the whole body. Reflexology is known as Zone Therapy in countries other than the UK.

Our bodies are very complex and are capable of healing themselves, anything from a small cut or bruise to a major injury or emotional trauma. One of the most amazing things I have experienced was my body’s ability to knit together my Achilles tendon on its own, after it had snapped. I simply had the foot set in various positions and my body did the rest of the work. Systems and organs in the body are constantly working together to heal and repair. Examples could be the brain and rest of the nervous system, which is in control of much of our activity, and the circulatory system, which transports oxygen and nutrients to body cells to be converted into energy. Energy is essential for our well-being and indeed to keep going.

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All the systems need to be working together well to maintain a healthy balance. Stress, injury, or illness can cause the balance to be disrupted when component parts are less effective. Problems can then be compounded by the fact that the rest of the body works harder to compensate, potentially causing problems in other components.

There are 7,000-7,200 nerve endings in the human foot, and each of these is a reflex point that corresponds to a body part. Reflexology uses special finger/thumb manipulations to stimulate reflex points, which will stimulate the flow of energy to the corresponding body part. This gradually helps to restore homeostasis and stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself, physically and emotionally. As reflex points are minute, the movements are quite precise and care must be taken to cover all of them to ensure that the treatment is comprehensive and therefore a holistic treatment for the whole body. However, there is no reason why a specific reflex point (or points) can’t be worked on more if an imbalance is detected. Imbalances manifest themselves through crystals at the affected reflex point, which vary from being slightly crunchy like sugar to lumps of varying sizes. Dispersing these crystals is what unblocks energy channels, and this is done by applying firm pressure with the thumb (or fingers depending on where on the foot the reflex point is). Visible signs of imbalance could be hard skin, discolouration of skin (e.g. yellowing), marks on the foot (red marks can indicate acute problems), and bunions. The odour, temperature, and moistness of a foot also play a part in assessing it. It will often take several treatments to awaken the reflexes and start to see some effect.

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Reflexologists know which area of the foot corresponds to which body part by learning maps of the feet, plantar view, dorsal view, and medial and lateral views. There are 5 longitudinal zones on each foot that run from each of the toes directly up through the body to the top of the head. Zone 1 runs from the big toe up through the centre of the body to the top of the head, zone 2 from the next toe, and so on ending with zone 5 running from the little toe up the outside of the body to the shoulders and neck. There are then horizontal zones that map out which cross-section of the body corresponds to reflex points in that zone.


Reflexology has been practised in some form for thousands of years, indeed the first solid proof is to be found on a pictograph painted on an Egyptian tomb dated between 2500 – 2330 BC. The next evidence is a lot younger, in the form of a book written by two physicians called Dr Adamus and Dr Atitis on zone therapy in 1582. Another picture shows the practice in China, dated 1870.

In 1890 Sir Henry Head of London identified the study of zones within his neurological studies and called his findings head zones. At the same time Dr Alfons Cornelius discovered that when painful reflexes were massaged it caused the corresponding body part to heal faster.

In 1915 Dr Fitzgerald developed the concept of zone therapy, and claimed to ease certain symptoms and bring on numbness by applying pressure to the hands, mouth, and feet. In the 1930s Eunice Ingham developed the “Ingham Reflex Method of Compression Massage”, which mooted that all parts of the body could be treated by applying pressure to relevant areas of the feet. She mapped out the reflex points and developed the pressure massage moves we use to stimulate reflexes today.

One of Eunice Ingham’s students, Doreen Bayly, introduced reflexology to the UK in the 1960s, and since then it has become very popular. It is now used in pain clinics, cancer centres, and during pregnancy and childbirth, and is one of the few complementary therapies sometimes available on the NHS.

If you're in the Peterborough, Stamford, Oundle, Uppingham or Corby areas why not give youself a Reflexology treatment at our Practice.

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The following reflexology book was referenced for this section:

Reflexology by Susan Cressy

See our full range of Holistic Therapy books in the Further Exploration section.

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