Reflexology is a foot massage technique usually considered under the umbrella of 'alternative therapies'. Unlike most massage techniques no oils are used and most of the pressure is applied using the thumb. As a qualified practitioner I can attest to the effectiveness of reflexology in producing pleasure and deep relaxation. I am also a professional scientist and a hard headed no nonsense, rationalist. Practitioners of reflexology massage make many therapeutic claims for the technique. Before examining these claims it is first necessary to take a look at the so called theory that underpin these claims.
Reflexology and Zone Theory
The main guiding tenet of reflexology is 'zone theory'. This theory envisages the foot as a map that mirrors the body. Each specific zone of the foot has a complementary or sympathetic body part over which it has an influence. For instance, the tip of the big toe corresponds to the brain and the area in the centre of the foot relates to the solar plexus (which area of the foot corresponds to the foot?). Reflexologists consult 'foot maps' which relate the exact region of the foot with its anatomical body part. According to the theory, massaging specific areas of the foot has a direct influence on the corresponding body part.
Beneficial Effects of Reflexology
As with many alternative therapies, the claimed beneficial effects of reflexology massage are manifold. Some of these claims include, improvement of circulation, relief of tension, pain relief and the ability to promote natural healing and function, to name but a few. These are indeed bold claims and if any were true it would place the technique at the forefront of modern medicine.
What is Qi?
There is no consensus amongst reflexologists on how reflexology achieves its therapeutic aims. Some theorise that a blockage in the bodies 'energy field' is responsible for causing, at least, some medical conditions. The energy field is often equated with the invisible life force, Qi. Therefore massaging areas of the foot helps to release blockages within the 'life force' and promote healing in the corresponding part of the body. The obvious problem with positing the concept of invisible forces is that, by definition, invisible forces remain outside our natural world and therefore not amenable to scientific scrutiny. In fact the concept is not amenable to scrutiny of any kind. Here lies the problem and thoughtful individuals are bound to question the concept's validity.
The gold standard for assessing whether any medical treatment is effective is data obtained from peer reviewed double blind trials. Reflexology massage practitioners may state truthfully that they have clients who have stated that they felt real health benefits from the treatment. The trouble with personal testament is that it remains, just that. How can we distinguish a positive result attributable to reflexology massage from a situation that may have come right without any intervention whatsoever? Or how are we to establish that any therapeutic effect is due to no more than placebo? This is why it is so important to obtain sound scientific data.
Reflexology Massage, the Evidence?
To date, I am unaware of any solid scientific evidence published in a respectable peer reviewed journal that demonstrates convincingly the effectiveness of reflexology massage for any medical condition. There is nothing wrong with a reflexology massage session as long as the practitioner makes no unsubstantiated medical claim. Reflexology remains nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable massage technique, as is the case with other massage techniques. However, if the practitioner claims that reflexology massage is acting as a valid treatment for a medical condition then medical professionals have a right to be concerned. At worst it may delay the patient seeking proven and effective conventional medical treatment with resulting disastrous consequences.
I suspect that much of what I have to say here will be disputed by many reflexologists. For the critics, I would like to leave with a quote from the late, great, British journalist and intellectual, Christopher Hitchens: "That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence". I rest my case.
George Davis is a professional scientist with 25 years experience as a Human Geneticist. His passion is helping smokers give up their deadly habit. If you are a smoker and are serious about quitting then visit Tips To Help Stop Smoking for no non-sense help and advice. TipsToHelpStopSmoking
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