For those who like scientific explanations and reasons for why things work, reflexology can seem "airy fairy" or "woo woo". It's reasonable to question how manipulating the little toe can address shoulder pain, for example. I get it. But countless testimonials from clients, and research studies now available for reflexology prove that it does work! Here are 4 ways that help explain how this form of body work works:
Even skeptics can't deny the benefits of relaxation. We all hear how harmful stress is on the body - it is the cause of 75% of disease. When a body is stressed, it is in "fight or flight" mode. Staying in this stress response for too long without a way to release it throws the body out of balance. This unbalance is what leads to illness. Reflexology is very relaxing to the nervous system. Therefore, the sympathetic nervous system ("fight or flight") is calmed, while the parasympathetic nervous system ("feed or "breed") is stimulated. This brings balance back to the body.
In addition, relaxation helps improve circulation. When the muscles are relaxed, it allows the blood to flow freely, carrying more nutrients and oxygen the body cells and organs.
2. Nerve Endings
There are a minimum of 7,000 nerve endings in each foot. Each of these nerve endings are connected to every organ, system, and gland in the body, and pressure to these nerve endings triggers a reflex response in the body. Real time MRI's show an increase of blood flow to the kidneys, small intestines, and brain while pressure is being applied to the corresponding reflex.
Biopsies have shown that there is an increase of nerve fibers in the feet when there is a health issue in the body. These nerve fibers produce an increase in chemicals (toxins) which cause pain in the body. Reflexology pressure breaks down these chemicals so that they can be released into the blood stream and be carried out of the body. The result is that pain is reduced, and the body relaxes. (The benefits of relaxation have been mentioned above.)
3. Energy Flow
Science now proves that there are electrical currents which pass through meridians in the body. These meridians, or energy channels, are what acupuncture is based on. (In reflexology, they are referred to as "zones".) These meridians are now being referred to by scientists as the primo-vascular system. They found that by inserting dye into the acupuncture points, a thin line can be seen running along the meridians. It stands to reason, therefore, that there are electrical properties at reflex points. During a reflexology session, these energy pathways are opened, allowing an increase in neurological and circulatory functioning. Clients often experience this by feeling tingling sensations, deep relaxation, or a warming feeling as circulation improves.
4. FM (Freaking Magic)
That reflexology works is proven. However, what is not understood is the physical mechanism that controls the meridians, or energy pathways (zones). This unexplained part of how reflexology (or acupuncture for that matter) works is what seems like "freaking magic"! Often, when my clients feel relief in their shoulder after I've worked on their little toe, instead of trying to understand it, they'll laugh, say it's weird, and call it "freaking magic"!
In summary, reflexology works through relaxation, the nervous system, and energy flow. What controls this energy flow is still a mystery, but if it works, does it really matter? This quote from a medical doctor regarding reflexology sums it up: "Why something works is not as important as whether it does work."