You may have noticed that pretty much every massage parlour that you walk past will have some kind of poster or chart on the wall, showing a picture of feet with all kinds of colours and labels. What you’re seeing is a reflexology foot chart, an ancient practice that targets different foot pressure points to help reduce pain and stress.
For some, reflexology seems somewhat ‘new age’ but those in the know will quickly point out that it’s more than just a ‘Chinese foot massage’. In fact, millions of people across the globe use it to help with a variety of maladies such as headaches, sinus problems, stomach issues and more.
So, what is reflexology exactly and how do foot pressure points work? Join us as we take a closer look at this ancient practice and dip our toes into the spiritual side of self-care.
What is reflexology?
Before we get deeper into the ins and outs of reflexology, let’s explore the broad concept of how it works.
To put it simply, reflexology is based on the principle that your hands and feet are made up of distinct areas that represent the different parts and systems of your body.
Through the use of a foot massage chart or map, gentle pressure is applied to the different zones using thumbs and fingers to reduce stress and pain in the associated parts of the body.
There are a lot of different techniques in manipulating foot pressure points, such as ‘thumb walking’ through the different zones, soft kneading through the balls of the foot, or applying deep pressure through the arch of the foot. Different reflexologists use different methods and might even use tools such as sticks, balls or rubber bands to create different sensations. The good news is that if you prefer to do your massage at home, there are machines such as the Daiwa Felicity Electric Foot Massager and RENPHO Massager which do a great job.
The Origins of Reflexology
Like a lot of things that go back to ancient times, the origins of reflexology are a little murky. However, we do know that it can be traced back 5000 years or so to Egypt and China through hieroglyphics and medical journals.
Fast-forward a few hundred years to the 14th century, and ‘reflex zone therapy’ (an adaptation of reflexology) was being used throughout Europe in regionally different forms.
Then, in the early 20th century, a Doctor named William Fitzgerald and his associate, a physiotherapist, Eunice Ingham went on to develop modern reflexology, based on the ancient principles. Through their work the world gained a much better understanding of reflexology, resulting in more detailed mapping of the body onto the feet.
And thus, the reflexology foot chart was created.
The Reflexology Foot Chart
Reflexology foot maps contain the arrangement of your entire body, projected onto your foot, with each body part being represented on a specific area. For instance, your eyes and ears are on the small toes, while your stomach is in the middle of the arch.
The above is your typical foot massage chart, but they do vary from place to place, or even country to country: however, body parts and organs should broadly be the same. You can download or print this chart from anywhere, but we suggest you get yourself a Theraflow manual roller as it comes with a guide, a chart and of course, the tool to practice your own self-reflexology.
So, now that you’ve seen the foot chat, let’s get a little deeper into how foot pressure points are said to work.
How Does Reflexology Work?
Reflexology is based on the principle of Qi (pronounced as ‘Chi’), which is a foundation of traditional Chinese medicine that goes back thousands of years. It translates as ‘air’ or ‘breath’ but is said to be the basis of all life and natural energy within living things.
In good circumstances, Qi flows through the body freely, providing a strong balance of life and energy which results in a state of calmness and wellness. However, it can get disrupted or blocked through stress, injury, illness or toxicity, which leaves the body in a state of unbalance. It is this unbalance that is said to cause further illness, anxiety and stress.
Reflexology is designed to remove any of the blockages in the body, allowing Qi to freely flow throughout the body to bring back that all-important balance. In practical terms, this involves the stimulation of different body parts through the specific areas in the feet, as demonstrated by the chart. Through various techniques, this stimulation puts the body back into a state of relaxation, allowing it to heal and produce feel-good hormones such as endorphins.
What are the benefits of reflexology?
For centuries, reflexologists from all walks of life claim that the manipulation of feet can help with issues such as:
- Improving circulation of blood, nutrients, nerve signals and energy in the form of Qi.
- Improvement of overall health and the immune system.
- Healing injuries and cleansing the body from various toxins.
- Releasing endorphins and other hormones that relieve stress and promote wellness.
Reflexology should only be considered as a complementary treatment or therapy method. It is best used alongside conventional medicine and should not be used as the sole means of treatment. It should not be used when there are scientifically proven treatments available.
The main benefit of reflexology as a path to wellness is that it is very safe, non-invasive and natural. It does not place the body under any stress and doesn’t use drugs, chemicals or anything that the body could consider as ‘foreign’. You can even learn the techniques of foot pressure points to treat yourself or loved ones. All you need is some practice and the foot chart.
What does science say?
For many people, the idea of Qi, energy flow and organs on the feet might be a step too far towards the spiritual side of things. There have been a few small studies over the years, but nothing concretely conclusive has been discovered.
For instance, several studies, such as one carried out by the American National Cancer Institute have shown that while reflexology cannot cure serious diseases, they can still have a positive effect.
They said “women with advanced breast cancer who received reflexology treatments showed improvement in a few symptoms, such as shortness of breath, but not others, such as nausea or pain. In this study, reflexology was safe even for the most fragile patients.”
The reason why reflexology is so hard to prove is that everyone is different, and while some may respond to reflexology points, it may only be because they believe in the philosophy behind it. However, since it is so widespread, it is likely to have some measurable merit.
Is it safe?
The short answer to this is ‘yes’. One of the main benefits of using foot pressure points in massage is that it’s very non-invasive and natural, and doesn’t depend on using drugs, chemicals or anything artificial. However, there are times when it should not be used:
- For those with skin conditions or infections such as psoriasis, chickenpox or eczema.
- It’s not been proven that reflexology is 100% safe for pregnant women, so they shouldn’t take unnecessary risk.
- If the feet are inflamed or have unhealed wounds/fractures.
- If you have an infection or high temperature, vomiting or diarrhoea.
- Large varicose veins or deep vein thrombosis.
The 15 pressure points
Going back to our chart, these are the 15 pressure points that are at the centre of reflexology. Again, we would like to highlight that these are not cures for the listed conditions, but are believed to at least alleviate the symptoms. Always use conventional medicine and doctors.
May help with
|Tai Chong (LV 3)||Below the joint of the big toe, between the big toe and second toe.||Stress, headaches, anger, anxiety, irritability and menstrual pain.|
|Yong Quan (KD 1)|| |
Below the joint of the big toe, between the big toe and second toe.
|Insomnia, night sweats, palpitations, hot flashes, memory loss and anxiety.|
|Da Dun (LV 1)||One inch below the toenail corner, towards the inner side of the big toe.||Dizziness, stomach aches and hernia.|
|Tai Bai||Depression point on the middle side of the foot, near the ball of the foot.||Stomach ache, vomiting, diarrhea.|
|Tai Xi||Between the Achilles tendon and the top of the inner bony bump on your ankle.||Toothaches and sore throat.|
|Shen Ma||The bony bump on the outside of your ankle.||Promotes patience, reduces fear and anxiety.|
|Qiu Xu||Underneath the bump on the outside of your ankle.||Mental stress, mood and mental stability.|
|Kun Lun||The depression spot between the highest point of the ankle and Achilles tendon.||High blood pressure, intestinal problems, headaches, eye pressure.|
|Xing Jian||The thick skin between the big toe and second toe.||
Vision issues, leg cramps, sinusitis and liver disease.
|Li Nei Ting||The plantar (underside of your foot), between your second and third toes.||Food poisoning, urinary tract infections, constipation, toothaches and stroke rehabilitation.|
|Xia Li||The skin between the big and second toes on the upper side of your foot.||Diarrhea symptoms and stomach pain.|
|Zu Lin Qi||The outer side of your foot, one-third of the way down.||Eye conditions, ease lumbar pain, muscle cramping.|
|Gao Ya Xue Dian||Middle of the big toe, on the upper side.||High blood pressure.|
|Di Er Li Dui||Below the toenail of your second toe.||Hiccups, nausea and appetite problems.|
|Di San Li Dui||The middle toe, below the toenail.||Heartburn and wind.|
What is the difference between reflexology and massage?
The key difference between massage and reflexology is that reflexology is not just about rubbing and massaging muscle; it’s about applying pressure in the right way, to the right areas.
Who can benefit from it?
Most people can enjoy reflexology with little or no risk. However, certain groups should avoid it to be safe, such as pregnant women and people with serious skin conditions and injuries.
Does it work?
The evidence of effectiveness is mostly anecdotal and will vary from person to person depending on many different factors. Scientific research is mostly inconclusive but does agree that there is some merit in helping people relax.
Where is the pressure point to relieve a headache?
The recommended reflexology pressure point believed to help with headaches is known as Tai Chong, which is found between the big and second toes.
Can reflexology help me feel more relaxed?
In most cases, reflexology works well to help people feel relaxed. Some say that it helps to temporarily reduce anxiety and other stresses.
Can it help me with arousal?
In some ways, yes. It helps people feel more relaxed and comfortable with their partners. However, it is not considered to be a direct cure for arousal issues.
Can I give myself a foot massage or reflexology session?
Reflexology is an age-old practice which some people spend a lifetime studying. However, you can give yourself a reasonable reflexology massage with machines or equipment you can buy online. Here are a couple of options you can try:
RENPHO Massager – has plenty of massage options and heating features, as well as some reflexology pressure points.
Theraflow manual roller – a little less high-tech, but still does a great job, especially as it uses wooden components for a more natural feel.
Daiwa Felicity Electric Foot Massager – Is shaped differently from the others but puts a lot of focus on reflexology.
Beurer FM60 – An interesting option that combines Japanese Shiatsu, heat and reflexology to cover all the bases.
Discover a new way of wellness
So, there you have it: now that you know the basics of foot pressure points and reflexology, you can begin your own journey of discovery. We’ve put a few links to suggested products just above, but feel free to do your own research to find out more about how you can improve your own Qi (or at least get some relaxation). Give it a go, as you might just find it helps but please, remember to consult with conventional medicine if you have any illness or injury. Now, go get that Qi!