Reflexology works by applying pressure to points on the body, specifically the feet, in order to improve health, relieve pain and promote relaxation. Reflexologists believe that certain zones on the feet, hands and ears correspond to various glands, organs and muscles located elsewhere in the body. When pressure is applied to these zones, people claim to experience beneficial health effects. For example, massaging the tips of the toes is believed to stimulate the head and brain and relieve headaches, while pressure applied to the ball of the foot is believed beneficial to the chest and heart.
Reflexology produces a variety of physical changes in the body. Overall relaxation is evident, which in itself is beneficial for health and well-being. Reflexology has also been shown to improve circulation and assist in the removal of waste products from the body. The increase in blood flow also enables vital nutrients to reach the cells of the body, which greatly improves oxygenation. The pressure and physical contact of reflexology offers many of the same benefits as other forms of massage therapy.
The exact way reflexology works in unknown, but a number of theories exist to explain its benefits. One primary theory is that reflexology works by sending a calming message to the central nervous system by way of the peripheral nerves in the hands and feet. This message signals the body to adjust its tension level, enhancing relaxation and increasing blood flow. A second theory suggests that the stimulation resulting from a reflexology session releases endorphins and monoamines; two compounds that work to control pain and induce relaxation. A third theory, called the Zone Theory, indicates reflexology works in a similar manner to acupuncture. This theory suggests the body is divided into 10 vertical zones, and that every muscle and organ in the body can be stimulated by working on the corresponding zone point in the hands and feet.