There is no question that reflexology is effective for the reduction of pain; anxiety; depression; and to enhance sleep, and relaxation. The Mayo Clinic1 describes several studies on their website that indicate effectiveness. Reflexology has been studied through hundreds of studies around the world, and these clinical trials prove the effectiveness of reflexology for any number of disorders, illnesses, or conditions. You'll find several studies described on the News & Blog link in the menu above, and more clinical studies will be added over time.
Not every clinical study of reflexology indicates it's effectiveness for every condition, illness or disease, which of course is in keeping with every modern medical intervention offered today, be it drugs, surgery, medical devices, or procedures. Each person is unique, and therefore only a unique set of interventions will work for them in any given situation. The powerful benefit of reflexology is its noninvasive nature, gentleness, and safety.
People often ask 'how does it work?' 'why does it work?', or 'is it some kind of magic?', so I'd like to offer a scientific explanation for the mechanics of this healing system. Below I describe the two key anatomical functions that allow reflexology to be an effective therapy for the human body. The basis of reflexology is found in neurology.
ANATOMY PART ONE
It may seem ‘mysterious’ to some to hear that pressure applied to certain points on the bottom of the feet or hands would cause a reaction in another part of the body, such as organs, muscles or glands, but this is can be easily explained through the nervous system function called the Reflex Arc2. The Reflex Arc is the stimulation of receptors in the body- RECEPTOR (in this case: the foot or hand), which sends a signal along the sensory neuron to the spinal cord. That signal is then relayed to motor neurons at the corresponding sites in the body called the effector - EFFECTOR (in this case: an organ, muscle or gland). It is the interplay between the RECEPTOR and the EFFECTOR that allows a reflexology on the feet or hands to stimulate other parts of the body. Here are a couple of videos that describe this function: VIDEO 1, VIDEO 2. It is the stimulation of the organ, muscle or gland that can bring it back into proper function. See the graphic.
ANATOMY PART TWO
One of the most important systems of the body is the lymphatic system, which includes interstitial fluid, or as it is sometimes called tissue fluid, lymph glands, and lymph. This system is not well understood by many people, but its performance is key to our health, as it delivers nutrients, and oxygen to our cells, and removes waste products from the body.
Graphic: Representation of the Reflex Arc action in the body.
This extracellular fluid brings all of the things that our cells require by integrating with our via blood stream, and capillaries.
The system also removes waste products such as cellular debris, bacteria, minerals, and proteins through the lymphatic vessels. The lymphatic structures also functions to provide the backbone of our immune defense system.
As in any system, the lymphatics can become sluggish, and less effective over time, or when illness or disease are present in the body. The effect of this drag on the system can be seen in the form of calluses, bunions, bone spurs, and other calcification in the feet. The feet are obviously at the very bottom of our bodies, and when the system is compromised, the effects of gravity can cause waste products to pool in the feet, and fail to be disposed of from the body normally. When this waste can not be removed properly it creates a negative cycle of increased congestion, and reduced circulation, which continues to worsen over time. The gentle action of reflexology can assist in breaking up congestion in the feet, increasing circulation, and helping to remove cellular waste, which allows the system to return to a normal state. Reflexology can also stimulate the kidneys and liver to remove waste more efficiently.
In summary, the two fundamental anatomical systems that allow reflexology to be productive healing system are the Reflex Arc, and the lymphatic system. The Reflex Arc creates the communication system between the feet at the rest of the body, while the stimulation of the lymphatic system keeps the body operating at peak efficiency.