I had the vaguest idea of a reflexology foot massage when I was younger.
Every time my mom asked me to massage her feet, I would simply apply random massage strokes with my fingers like a kid doing an abstract painting.
It’s not until I discovered the existence of foot reflexology that I realized the true potential of a simple foot rub.
To cut the long the story short, I’ve decided to dive into the realm of reflexology for one reason: to help my ageing mother get the best out of life. Although it has its own critics, foot reflexology can actually do wonders as long as you keep an open mind and realize that it’s just a supplement, not a cure-for-all.
Do you want to learn the basics of foot reflexology massage and do it on someone you care the most? Jump-start your journey towards a healthier, more comfortable life with this beginner’s guide.
Also Read: How To Give A Foot Massage
What Is A Reflexology Foot Massage?
Foot reflexology is as old as ancient civilizations.
Images depicting early forms of foot massage therapy have been found in some Egyptian tombs, suggesting that the deceased was known for such activity when he/she was alive.
As early as 4,000 BC, foot therapy was already being practiced in China. It is believed that the Chinese started using it as a method of healing around the same time acupuncture was gaining ground.
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However, it was actually William Fitzgerald (1872-1942) who laid the groundwork for the modern-day foot reflexology. An ear, nose and throat doctor, Fitzgerald discovered there’s a link between targeted massage and organ functions. He published his observations in a 1917 scientific work, “Zone Therapy,” the results of which were explored further by his colleague, Dr. Joe S. Riley.
Since then, foot reflexology has slowly gained popularity worldwide, attracting an equal number of proponents and opponents.
But what exactly is foot reflexology massage?
For London-based reflexologist Rosana Bickerton, it’s a “powerful preventative medicine.”
Bickerton, who trained with Beijing’s legendary Professor Hang, claims she could ‘read’ a person’s foot. When she spots soreness or crunchiness in any area of the feet, it means an organ is having some issues and a targeted massage is needed to cure it.
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Reflexologists believe that specific areas of the feet are connected to different organs or parts of the body through sensory nerves. When any of these pathways is blocked, the Chi or the energy in the body becomes off-balance, causing stress or diseases.
Through reflexology foot massage, the reflex points (or meridian points) are massaged and stimulated. This process rejuvenates the body and restores the balance.
Foot reflexology is both curative and preventive, meaning you can use it on a daily basis to improve health and well-being.
Reflexology Foot Chart: A Beginner’s Guide.
Before we proceed with the actual massage, it’s important to give you an overview of the different meridian or reflex points.
Memorizing all these by heart may take some time, so I suggest you print out the chart below and refer to it every time you give someone or yourself a reflexology foot massage.
Contrary to popular belief, reflexology involves both the top and bottom of the foot. Here are few organs/parts of the body and how they can be influenced by a simple foot rub:
a. Brain (1) – Brain cells are stimulated, thereby improving one’s cognitive functions.
b. Lung/chest (13) – Improved respiration; prevention and treatment of respiratory conditions.
c. Stomach (21) – Proper digestion of carbohydrates, fats and proteins; prevention and treatment of digestive disorders.
d. Lumbar spine (39) – Low back pain relief.
e. Thyroid gland (45) – Normal thyroid functions; stable level of important hormones such as calcitonin, the lack of which may cause osteoporosis and dental problems.
f. Gallbladder (20) – Prevention of kidney stones and bile-related disorders such as pancreatitis and steatorrhea. Bile is secreted by the gallbladder and is a key component in fat digestion.
g. Kidneys (25) – Restoration of normal kidney functions such as elimination of toxic wastes and secretion of vital hormones such as erythropoietin (helps in the production of red blood cells) and renin (stabilizes blood pressure).
h. Small intestines (30) – Normal digestion and reabsorption of essential nutrients.
i. Pancreas (24) – Revitalizes the pancreas, responsible for secreting two important hormones–the insulin and glucagon. The insulin prevents high blood sugar levels by helping the cells take in the glucose. Glucagon, meanwhile, produces glucose when there’s not enough blood sugar to keep the cells up and running.
Reflexology Foot Massage Benefits.
Reflexology is best described as a ‘guided’ foot massage. It’s like having a normal foot rub, only this time you know which specific parts to stimulate to get the best results.
The following are just some of the known benefits of foot reflexology:
1. Improves blood circulation.
Just like how back rub improves blood circulation, foot reflexology massage also ensures blood is freely flowing from the blood vessels in the feet towards the heart. Blood circulation is essential because metabolism and elimination of body wastes rely on it.
2. Relieves stress and anxiety.
Do you feel like the world is weighing you down? If yes, then foot reflexology may provide the relief you’re looking for.
According to London-based reflexologist Rosanna Bickerton, being in a state of anxiety is like putting all the energy to your head, depriving the rest of the body of the energy it needs to function well.
With the help of reflexology foot massage, the parasympathetic nervous system is triggered, thereby stopping the “fight-or-flight” response and allowing the body to start the healing process.
3. Improves the body’s metabolic and respiratory functions.
By stimulating the reflex points connected to lungs and organs responsible for metabolism, foot reflexology can indirectly improve your health. This can be manifested through improved breathing and metabolic functions. Disorders affecting these specific organs may be prevented as well.
4. Strengthens the body’s defenses.
There are many ways foot reflexology can improve your immune system. Both the spleen and lymphoid organs are part of the immune system, and stimulating them through reflexology may boost their functions.
Different cells of the body are also enhanced with each reflex point you touch, and this contributes to the overall improvement of the immune system.
5. Relieves pain.
Massaging areas linked to the head may help reduce pain associated with migraines and other forms of headache. The same principle applies to other areas of the body.
However, it’s best to ask the opinion of your physician first to ensure you’re not overlooking anything that may require serious medical intervention.
6. Improves sleep.
Reflexology foot massage calms your nerves and relaxes your mind. For this reason, it can be a good alternative treatment to help you establish good sleeping patterns. It’s not unusual to see someone dozing off a few minutes after receiving foot massage.
7. Reinvigorates nerve function.
Since reflexology works under the principle that each organ is connected to sensory nerves, this massage may help in the overall improvement of the nervous system.
Through stimulation of the reflex points, the nerves are revitalized, resulting to a smooth transmission of impulses to the central nervous system (CNS).
8. Restores balance in your body’s energy.
In reflexology lingo, Chi refers to the total energy that freely flows in your body. When you’re sick or experiencing pain, it means the balance has been disrupted.
This energy is composed of the positive (Yin) and the negative (Yang). Balancing the two will restore your energy and health. Foot reflexology, by stimulating meridian points, is one of the most effective ways to achieve this balance.
As said by reflexologist Rosanna Bickerton, the goal of reflexology is “create homeostasis, which means that the organs in the body are all working together and at their best.”
Contraindications for Reflexology Foot Massage.
As with any other type of massage, there are also some cases when foot reflexology is not allowed. Don’t forget to consult with your physician before trying massage or any type of alternative treatment.
The following conditions are considered too infectious or life-threatening, hence reflexology foot massage isn’t possible:
- Infections accompanied by fever.
- Mental disorders with multiple symptoms like schizophrenia.
- (Existence or suspicion of) thrombosis.
- (Existence or suspicion of) seizure.
- Acute inflammations in the lymphatic systems or vein.
- Fungal infection (although thin socks can be worn).
How To Give Reflexology Foot Massage: A Step-By-Step Guide.
Step 1: Let the person lie comfortably on a massage table. Spread the legs. Cover one foot with a towel as you work on the other.
Step 2: Gently knock the limbs and calf before you proceed to the foot.
Step 3: Rub the foot to warm it up. Lather massage cream or oil on the foot as well as the calf. The lubrication will lessen skin friction and makes for a more soothing massage experience.
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Step 4: Apply a “figure of eight” massage on the sole of the foot. Use your two thumbs to apply pressure on the middle of the sole outwards. Repeat this ten times.
Step 5: Massage the middle of the foot using your two thumbs, moving downward towards the heel. Repeat it eight to ten times.
Step 6: With the use of your knuckle, gently massage the back of the toes. This will effectively hit the areas connected to the brain, sinuses, temple, ears, pineal/hypothalamus, side of neck and the pituitary gland.
Step 7: Pull each toe afterwards to further stimulate the organs connected to the reflex points.
Step 8: Again using your knuckles, rub the upper part of the foot just below the toes in a clockwise direction. Based on the reflexology foot chart above, this area contains the reflex points for the heart, chest/lung, arm, shoulder, neck and some parts of the eyes and ears.
Step 9: Using one thumb on top of the other, apply downward pressure on the front of the sole. Massage this area in three portions: right, center and left.
Step 10: Again using your two thumbs, massage the middle portion of the sole downwards to stimulate the digestive system.
Step 11: Use your knuckles to massage the sole. This will further relieve muscle tension and soreness as well as stimulate the reflex points it will touch along the way.
Step 12: Massage the heel of the foot with your knuckle, moving in a circular motion. This area holds the meridian/reflex points linked to the colon, appendix, bladder and the sciatic nerve.
Step 13: Massage the side of the foot with your thumb in a circular motion. Use your the other hand to support the foot.
Step 14: Using your thumb, gently rub the side of the big toe to massage/stimulate the neck spine (cervical spine) and the hypothalamus.
Step 15: Apply a long massage stroke on the side of the foot. This area corresponds to the spine.
Step 16: Massage the side of the heel with your knuckles to relieve tension or pain on your tailbone and lower back.
Step 17: Don’t forget to apply reflexology on top of the foot. To do this, use your two thumbs and massage the area in an upward motion. This will stimulate the lympathic area.
Step 18: Finish it off by massaging the calf or leg.
Important Reminders On Reflexology Foot Massage.
*Foot massage should never cause severe pain. If this is the case, it’s either the therapist is using the wrong techniques or there’s an underlying medical condition that you’re not aware of. See your doctor as soon as possible.
*For maximum effect, get reflexology foot massage regularly. You can do it on your own or let someone massage your feet for 30 to 60 minutes a day.
*Ensure all the materials to be used in the massage (e.g. towel) are clean. Perform hand washing before doing the massage to prevent the spread of microorganisms.
*Avoid drinking alcohol before receiving a reflexology foot massage. The effects of alcohol are enhanced during foot reflexology sessions.
Hayes, S. (2014). Foot Reflexology: A Complete Guide for Foot Reflexology Self Massage (1st ed.). LCPublifish LLC.
Murphy, A. (2014). Alternative health: an expert explains the benefits of reflexology massage. The Telegraph. Retrieved 5 January 2017, from https://goo.gl/PUxKHn
Schaefer, M. (2008). Reflexology Massage (1st ed.). Sterling Publishing Company.