Sunday, 28 April 2013

Reflexology and cancer

What is reflexology?
Reflexologists work the feet in a systematic way that stimulates corresponding organs and glands in the body. This supports the body to restore health as best as it can. Nerves are stimulated in such a way that they fire signals to the cells and organs they are connected to.

Some primary effects of reflexology
Kunz and Kunz (2008) identified the following primary effects that Reflexology demonstrates and which can now be confirmed thanks to modern technology:
1.   fMRI readings show that reflexology has an impact on specific organs. Reflexology, applied to a specific part of the foot, activated the reflected area in the brain. Specifically, technique stimulation applied to the inner lateral corner of the left great toe activated the right temporal lobe, the part of the brain related to the reflex area (Nakamaru et al. 2008)
2.   An amelioration of symptoms such as an improved kidney functioning with kidney dialysis patients. Using Doppler sonography, Sudmeier et al. (1999) were able to show that blood flow through the kidneys increased during reflexology treatments. This is highly beneficial as the renal blood flow helps transport nutrients to cells and removes waste materials
3.   A relaxation effect where EEG’s measure a drop in blood pressure and a lowering in anxiety levels.
4.   A reduction in pain was evident in patients with a variety of illnesses such as AIDS, kidney stones, peripheral neuropathy, cancer etc.

Reflexology is beneficial as it
-      Helps to relax
-      Provides a coping mechanism
-      Helps patients to better cope with stress and anxiety
-      Relaxes the mind
-      Helps to relieve the side effects of the treatment through detoxification
-      Helps to relieve pain
-      Helps to feel more positive
-      Gives a feeling of well being
-      Relieves nausea

The School of Nursing at the University of Canberra organized a ten-minute reflexology treatment for 87 hospitalized cancer patients. The treatment produced a significant and immediate effect on the patients’ perceptions of pain, nausea and relaxation when measured with a visual analogue scale (measurement instrument for subjective characteristics or attitudes that cannot be directly measured) (Grealish, L., Lomasney, A. & Whiteman, B., 2000).

A clinical experience with a client with mesothelioma and only months to live: after three weekly treatments combining Reiki and reflexology, the pain experienced had decreased to such a level that he was able to reduce the morphine dosages taken in the morning and at night. At the same time, he was also able to stop taking the quick release morphine during the day. The result from the treatments was that his and his family’s quality of life had improved.

Research conducted by Stephenson et al. (2000) shows how reflexology affects anxiety and pain. Twenty-three, mostly female, patients with breast or lung cancer received a 30-minute reflexology treatment. It was found that both groups experienced a significant decrease in anxiety and that one of three pain measures showed that the breast cancer patients experienced a significant decrease in pain.
Teagarden & Morris (2013) suggest that there is no clear distinction between a reflexology and a medical treatment and this needs to be addressed to avoid potential problems. They also recognize the strong bond that exists between many providers and their patients. In their conclusion they encourage researchers to standardize the reporting of trials.


Grealish, L., Lomasney, A. & Whiteman, B.(2000). Foot Massage: A nursing intervention to modify the distressing symptoms of pain and nausea in patients hospitalized with cancer. Cancer Nurse, 23(3), 237-43. (On-line review: "Reflexology Used for Cancer Patients," Internet Health Library, October 11, 2000)
Kunz, B. & Kunz, K. (2008). Evidence-based reflexology for health professionals and researchers: The evidenced-based reflexology series.
Nakamaru, T., Miura, N., Fukushima, A. & Kawashima, R.. (2008). Somatotopical relationships between cortical activity and reflex areas in reflexology: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Neuroscience Letters 448(1), 6-9. Doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2008.10.022. Epub 2008 Oct 14

Sudmeier, I., et al. (1999). Anderund der nierendurchblutung durch organassozilerte reflexzontherapie am fuss gemussen mit farbkodierter Doppler-sonograhpie. Universitatsklinik fur Innere Medizin, Inssbruk, Austria. Forsch Komplementarmed, 6(3), 129-34.

Stephenson, N.L.N., Weirich, S.P. & Tavakoli, A.S. (2000). The effects of foot reflexology on anxiety and pain in patients with breast and lung cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum. 27(1).  Retrieved from reflexology%20on%20Anxiety%20and%20Pain.pdf

Teagarden, K. & Morris, D. (2013). What does the research say about reflexology? University of Minnosota. Retrieved from

Monday, 8 April 2013

Reflexology and neural pathways

Reflexology is a specific form of foot massage, working various points on the feet that correlate to target organs/glands. Reflexology is designed to harmonize how the body functions and to clear the neural pathways of any congestion so that the signals between the different parts of the body travel freely to improve the general functioning of the body and each part of it.

What are neural pathways?
This term is being used more and more but what does it mean?
A neural pathway connects one part of the nervous system with another. Supported by glial cells, neurons or nerve cells make up the nervous system. To make it visually easier, each neuron could be compared to a tree:
Neuron                            tree
Soma or cell body        canopy
Dendrites                       branches
Axon                                tree trunk
Terminal buttons        roots
Synapse                         junction between terminal buttons of one neuron and the membrane of a cell (neuron, muscle cell, etc.) where signals are received
Glial cells                       give structural and metabolic support to neurons

There are so many neurons in our body that they touch. As they do, the soma and dendrites of one neuron receive synaptic signals from other neurons. This signal travels to the axon, which becomes alive with electrical impulses, called the action potential, that relay the information to the terminal buttons where chemicals called neurotransmitters are released thus transmitting the synaptic signals to the next neuron or a muscle cell. The signal could be to flex or relax the targeted muscle or to withdraw a hand from a heat source. There are different types of neurons. The motor neuron for example has an axon that can be up to a meter long travelling from the spinal cord to the muscle whilst the longest axon in a neuron runs from the big toe to the brain stem.

How is this relevant to Reflexology?
Ever since Eunice Ingham rediscovered Reflexology in the early 1900’s it has been said that the more than 7200 nerve endings in the feet are stimulated when working the various reflexes.
An fMRI study (Nakamaru et al., 2008) concludes that Reflexology has some effect that is not simply sensory stimulation. Three different reflexes were worked on the feet and the fMRI shows that the related areas in the brain are activated.

How does pressure, strong or light, on a reflex translate?
If a neuron responds, it must respond completely. Greater intensity of stimulation does not produce a stronger signal but can produce a higher frequency of firing (electrical impulse or action potential in the axon). When an object touches the skin, neurons fire but if the object maintains even pressure against the skin, the neurons stop firing. This is an argument for working a tender or congested reflex, leave it alone and then come back to it as it allows the body to keep responding to the stimulus of the finger which in turn brings about harmonizing the body.

When working reflexes on the feet, neurons are stimulated in such a way that signals are travelling at great speeds to the various organs, glands and all other cells in the body such as muscle tissue, etc. These signals stimulate parts of the body, clearing up congestion, which, when this has happened promotes healing and relaxation.

I do not have a scientific or medical background. In this article I try to explain how I see how reflexology works through the nervous system. Comments are very welcome.

Martin, G.N., Carlson, N.R., & Buskist, W. (2010). Psychology. Harlow, England:
            Allyn and Bacon.

Nakamaru, T., Miura N., Fukushima A. & Kawashima R. (2008). Somatotoical
            relationships between cortical activity and reflex areas in reflexology: a
            functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2013).  Neural pathway. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2013). Neuron. Retrieved from