This ancient healing practice, which involves the treatment of various disorders by stimulating reflex zones located on the soles of the feet, has deep-rooted origins. According to the International Federation of Reflexology, its roots go back to China, as evidenced by the oldest known document on reflex massage, the Hua Tus Mi Ji, dating from 2700 BC. As a result, it is considered an integral part of Chinese medicine, which is based on philosophical principles such as Yin and Yang (as explained in the chapter on acupuncture) and meridians. Moreover, in China, the foot is symbolically associated with the preservation of health.
Foot examination is also documented in the Huangdi Nei Jing Su Wen (Internal Classic of the Yellow Emperor), a fundamental acupuncture text dating from the 5th century BC. Reflexologists also mention a physician named Wang Wei, who practiced a form of acupuncture without needles in the 4th century BC, using intense pressure with the thumbs on the soles of the feet, in addition to traditional acupuncture with needles.
Yet the Middle Kingdom is not the only place where the importance of foot examination and care is recognized. Indian medical treatises also refer to the central role of the arch of the foot. This is illustrated by a mural fresco discovered in 1979 at Saqqara, in the tomb of Ankhmahor, a renowned ancient Egyptian physician. The fresco depicts therapists manipulating a patient's foot, while another carer uses his hand to perform treatments.
The Basics of Foot Reflexology : Principles and Methods
Self-healing : Foot reflexology, a manual therapeutic approach, promotes the activation of the body's natural resources and the regulation of its functions to improve a person's health. This deep-tissue massage aims to restore energy circulation and balance Yin and Yang.
Reflex zones : On the soles of the feet, different zones correspond to each organ. For example, the tips of the heel are linked to the pelvis, the area under the toes is associated with the lungs, and the area near the nails represents the sinuses, etc. Detailed mapping helps identify these specific zones. Each foot is home to around 7,200 nerve endings. When a foot reflexologist applies pressure to a given zone, this triggers a nerve impulse which, in turn, provokes a physiological response at a distance, affecting the corresponding organ. It's important to note that this correspondence between a region of the foot and an organ is based on physiological realities, rather than symbols.
Consultation : The first step in a foot reflexology consultation is to listen carefully to the patient to understand the reason for consultation, the symptoms and the medical history. The reflexologist also asks about any contraindications, such as recent respiratory or cardiac illness, first trimester pregnancy, foot trauma or infection, or phlebitis. Then the session proper can begin, usually with a relaxation phase, and several sessions may be required.
Indications : Foot reflexology is indicated in a number of areas, notably to reduce stress. More specifically, it treats reversible functional disorders, i.e. when the body still has the capacity to re-establish its proper functioning. For example, it can be used to relieve back pain (cervicalgia, lumbago), headaches and premenstrual symptoms, as well as to improve the quality of life of patients suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease.diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer, sleep disorders, anxiety, fatigue, digestive problems (constipation, bloating), blood circulation disorders, respiratory pathologies (colds, sinusitis, coughs) and dermatological conditions (eczema, among others).
An expert's view of foot reflexology
Céline Chauvel, a reflexologist specializing in occipito-podal techniques, explains her approach, which focuses on finding the cause of symptoms. She uses specific pressure on the foot's reflex zones to understand the origin of pain or health problems. She emphasizes that disorders in one part of the body can have repercussions on other parts, and her approach aims to restore balance.
Proven effectiveness against chemotherapy-related nausea : Although with a relatively small number of patients (34), a Korean study conducted in 2005 showed that foot reflexology significantly reduced nausea, vomiting and fatigue in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, compared with a control group. Other studies and meta-analyses have also suggested positive results, but due to the low level of evidence, future research is needed to confirm these effects more robustly.
Reflexology in other areas of the body
In addition to foot reflexology, there are also palm reflexology, facial reflexology and ear reflexology, which are based on similar principles, using the hands, face and ears to stimulate reflex zones and promote well-being and balance in the body.
Palmar reflexology : This involves applying pressure to the palm and back of the hand, where around 3,000 nerve endings are linked to different parts of the body. As with foot reflexology, the hand is considered a miniature representation of the body.
Facial reflexology : This technique, also known as the Dien Chan method, was developed recently. It is based on the principle that the face reflects the body. By exerting pressure or massaging certain parts of the face, we aim to activate the body's self-healing capacities.
Ear reflexology : Focusing on the auricle, this approach is based on the same principle of stimulating reflex zones to promote balance and overall health. There are around 200 points located on the ear.
Auricular reflexology is not to be confused with auriculotherapy, which involves the use of needles in the ear and is a form of acupuncture, practiced by doctors trained in this discipline.
Iridology : a controversial discipline
Iridology is a discipline that relies on the observation of the iris of the eye to establish a diagnosis. The origins of iridology date back to the 17th century, but it was developed in the 19th century by the Hungarian Ignatz von Peczely and is associated with alternative medicine. It aims to identify "terrains" or temperaments predisposing to certain pathologies, based on the pigmentation or appearance of the iris. Iridology practitioners then refer patients to healthcare professionals for appropriate treatment, or propose preventive programs.
As far as scientific evidence is concerned, it's important to note that no study has been able to provide conclusive proof of the validity of iridology's postulates or its supposed benefits. In 2000, an American meta-analysis published in Jama Ophthalmology even raised concerns about the safety of iridology. The analysis identified no fewer than 77 articles on the subject, none of which convincingly presented the effects of the technique. Some of these articles described experiments in which iridologists examined the irises of sick people, but failed to identify any pathological conditions. The author of the study urged extreme caution, as an iridology consultation could lead to misdiagnosis, which could result in patients receiving unnecessary treatment, or even, in the most serious cases, not receiving the necessary treatment at all.
Updated on 31 October 2023 at 16:19