Reflexology realizes new respectability

Feet first: Alternative healing therapy sees association between feet and other parts of the body

Health & Fitness


Reflexology is becoming more than a footnote among alternative health therapies.

A new study by Danish researchers shows 81 percent of 220 headache patients realized improvement or cures after six months of treatment. One of five participants previously on drug therapy for more severe cases stopped taking painkiller medications. Both migraine and tension headaches were studied.

Many spas promote reflexology as a service, but customers might not be getting much more than a foot massage by another name -- though a pleasing one at that. You need to ask if the spa has a certified reflexologist.

Reflexology is a formal discipline that focuses on dozens of points on the feet that practitioners associate with various parts of the body. For instance, the bottom of the toes are linked to the sinuses, part of left heel can signal the colon and the top of the feet just inside the toes holds the connection to the lungs.

You might think of the feet as a neurological control panel for the body, as wired to major organs and glands as the brain. Reflexology is based on the observations of an American physician, Dr. William Fitzgerald, while he was working in hospitals in Paris, Vienna and London during the late 1800s. He discovered he could relieve pain in one part of a person's body by applying pressure to another part, especially the feet. He incorporated Chinese healing arts to develop his system.

There are about 3,000 reflexologists certified to practice in this country. Reflexologists have thrived by word-of-mouth referrals from people with, say, cleared sinus conditions or fewer digestive problems.

Danish researchers have been producing a formidable body of evidence in recent years, including some findings that reflexology heightens self-awareness of body signals and symptoms. It is the most popular so-called alternative healing therapy in Denmark. Studies in other parts of Europe and China are helping make a case.

You can get a referral on reflexologists from the American Reflexology Certification Board in Littleton, Colo. Call 303-933-6921. Or try the International Institute of Reflexology (727-343-4811; in St. Petersburg, Fla. It is best to find a practitioner who is dedicated to reflexology rather than to a number of services.

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