Some of my friends have mentioned consulting a reflexologist about their health problems. I tend to lump reflexology in with acupuncture, homeopathy, reiki, magnet therapy and many other “alternative health” practices. The self-reported benefits of some of these treatments seem impressive to the uncritical mind – but what do we find when we delve a little deeper?
Reflexology, also known as Zone Therapy, was invented by William H Fitzgerald, an American ear, nose and throat doctor, in the early 20th century. His idea was that the human body is divided into ten vertical zones, each of which is represented by a part of the foot on the opposite side of the body.
This all ties back to the Eastern ideas of Qi or Chi – a life force or energy which supposedly flows along detectable meridians in the human body. By manipulating this Qi, therapists claim to be able to:
- stimulate lymph nodes, kidney and colon reflexes, thereby “cleansing the body of toxins” (I thought your liver and kidneys did that all by themselves)
- “balance and harmonise” the body (What??? That doesn’t even make sense!)
- enhance bodily function by increasing oxygen levels and nutrient supply to every cell (deep breathing when you fall asleep during your foot massage?)
- unblock nerve impulses and stimulate lethargic blood supply which prevent your Qi from reaching unhealthy or diseased organs.
- aid healing after surgery (using the same mysterious Qi energy)
- reduce tension (as would ANY foot massage)
By pressing on parts of the foot, the highly-trained reflexologist can detect areas of resistance which apparently indicate disease in the organ or part of the body represented by that spot on the foot. (Hands apparently also have zones connected in the same way ……. as do ears.)
Therapy involves massage at that point, which is believed to repair the diseased organ and generally improve the patient’s health (see the list of outlandish claims above). Several sessions of high-pressure massage may be needed to cure the problem, and thereafter maintenance sessions to prevent further disease. (This is really funny if you think about it. The reflexologist diagnoses a disease which does not yet exist in your body, treats it with nice foot massages at great expense to you because Medical Aids sensibly refuse to pay for reflexology treatments, and then claims a “hit” because you DIDN’T get sick with whatever they were treating you for!)
Okay, that all sounds very nice, comforting in a way. Here’s a therapy that can treat or cure your diseased organs without surgical intervention or even drugs. No nasty trips to the doctor, no lengthy and expensive stays in hospital, no years of chronic medication…. Hell no! Just pop off to the reflexologist for a foot massage and you’ll be fine!
Just a couple of small problems……….
Reflexology is not a legal medical profession – in South Africa for instance, two years of study at a spa training college or cosmetic and massage academy, covering the following subjects – anatomy and physiology, pathology, theoretical and practical reflexology, business practices, patient care, nutrition, HIV policy and first aid – will give you a DIPLOMA in Reflexology.
You can then register as a member of the Allied Health Professionals Council, pay your annual fees, and go out and pretend to be a medically qualified to diagnose and treat people with serious health problems.
The fact that they might DIE because they came to you for a foot massage instead of consulting a REAL doctor shouldn’t concern you too much, should it? Apparently ethics are not a huge part of the training course….
Neither is consistency.
Reflexologists can’t agree on exactly WHICH part of the foot/hand/ear is supposed to be magically connected to WHICH part of the body! You can check this out for yourself – just Google Reflexology Images, and you will find pages of charts of the zones – hands, feet and ears – and if you care to look closely you will see that although they obviously started out with Dr Fitzgerald’s original charts, some Poetic License has crept in over the years.
Isn’t it weird how the heart bit jumps around, getting bigger and smaller….? And the ascending colon becomes the descending colon? Some charts coyly don’t mention certain “private parts” – I guess those therapists didn’t learn about STDs in Cosmetics School….
The other major problem with Reflexology is that there is no scientific basis for its theories. There are no detectable meridians, there is no detectable Qi or Life Force, there is no evidence that this non-existent Qi is connected to parts of the hand or foot or ear and can be manipulated to treat specific illnesses. It’s just not biologically plausible. We have perfectly adequate explanations for the cause of most diseases, and scientific researchers are working on the rest. You don’t need to invoke magic to explain illness – germs, unhealthy eating habits, genetic inheritance, unhealthy environment, accidents, etc can explain most of what goes wrong in the human body.
There are SO MANY published results of clinical trials which have tested reflexology properly (random, double-blinded, peer-reviewed) and found it to be useful only for relaxation, and some pain relief, as well as having a placebo effect. Here are just a few links:
- The Medical journal of Australia
- Pubmed – in respect of menopause
- Mendeley – in respect of irritable bowel syndrome
You will notice that I have not included any links to “trials” which consist mainly of anecdotal evidence and which do not provide proper data to back up their conclusions – the internet positively teems with such information, all of it useless from a scientific and medical point of view.
Once again, I ask the question, What’s the Harm in seeing a reflexologist?
If you have any bone or joint condition in your feet or lower legs, it can be exacerbated by forceful massage as applied by the reflexologist. These are not doctors – they have a two or three-year diploma with debatable credentials – yes, they will ask you about your medical history and try to take reasonable care to not kill you outright. You hope.
If you allow a reflexologist to treat you for a serious condition you might delay consulting a medical doctor who can treat you with the medicine or surgery you really need. The condition could get a lot worse before you end up seeking proper medical care, by which time it might be too late…. cancer is the obvious example where early diagnosis and aggressive medical treatment is essential.
You just can’t afford to mess around with cancer…. How many people do you know who were diagnosed, tried chemotherapy, thought it wasn’t helping, went to an “alternative” practitioner, and then DIED??? Yes, it’s often fatal anyway, but you have a better chance of survival and a better quality of life if you get REAL MEDICAL CARE!
Modern reflexology tries to downplay the woo – if you look at a lot of their websites they emphasise the relaxation and massage side of it. Well, if it’s just a massage, why call yourself a reflexologist? Why rely on Zones and Qi and all the rest of the nonsense to back you up? Why pretend that it’s a valid medical intervention when it clearly isn’t?
Could it be because you can charge a LOT more for a reflexology session under the guise of medicine than you can for a simple foot massage? Reflexology treatment can run to several sessions and of course there are those “preventative” sessions – you could be tied into those for years!