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Reflexology: An Overview

By Carla Eisenberg
As the old saying goes, "When your feet hurt, everything hurts." Conversely, when your feet feel good, so will the rest of you. Reflexologists believe that the foot is a microcosm of the body, containing specific points and areas that correspond to various parts of the body.

Reflexologists also believe that by applying pressure to these various reflex points and areas there are physiological benefits. These benefits include relief from stress and tension, overall relaxation, improved circulation and the normalization of body functions. The type of pressure applied is different from foot massage. Reflexologists use their fingers to apply a moving, alternating pressure without using oil or lotion.

There are a variety of theories about how reflexology works, but none of them have been proven. The explanations range from involvement of the nervous system, release of endorphins, improved circulation, breakdown of lactic acid and balance of the body's energy field. There also exists a large body of persuasive anecdotal testimonials and a growing body of research (see resources below). In this country, reflexology has primarily been promoted by personal referral but in other countries such as Germany, reflexology is part of the recognized health care system. Each foot contains over 7000 nerve endings, 26 bones (one-fourth of all the bones in the body are in the foot), 19 muscles, 12 tendons, 107 ligaments. The foot is designed to support and balance an amazing amount of weight for the surface area (and that's if we are our ideal weight!) and move in complex ways. Flexibility and movement are important because the foot is continually exchanging messages with the brain about where we are in space and how our muscles need to tighten and relax to keep us upright and moving easily. Clearly, a lot is happening in the foot. Reflexology impacts nerves, muscles and connective tissue as well as acupuncture meridians and lymphatic vessels.

In the United States, reflexology is an evolution of the work of Dr. William Fitzgerald, a respected nose and throat doctor, who in the late 1800's noticed that pain in one part of a person's body could be relieved by applying pressure to another part, especially the feet. This theory, called Zone Theory, divides the body into ten energy zones running from head to toe and through the arms.

A colleague of Fitzgerald who specialized in drugless healing, introduced the work to Eunice Ingham, a physiotherapist. Through years of diligent work, Eunice Ingham created the first detailed foot chart, which shows each area of the foot with a corresponding gland, organ or body part. She began a practice in reflexology in the 1930's, wrote her first book and began to train others. Today, while there are multiple training programs, the International Institute of Reflexology is the direct continuation of her work.

Reflexology has deeper roots as well. There is an Eastern lineage that began in India and spread to China and Japan and a western lineage that traveled from Egypt to Greece and Arabia and on to Europe through the Roman Empire. Today reflexology is used in a variety of cultures around the globe.

Carla E. Eisenberg is a Nationally Certified Reflexologist through the American Reflexology Certification Board (ARCB).

Call Carla at 630.653.5960 or email to schedule your Reflexology appointment and start feeling better today!
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