The body has many energy lines running through it known as meridians or channels. Different parts of the body reflect these channels, which supply energy to the organs and systems. The entire body can be mapped out on pressure points on the feet. In reflexology the area of the foot that corresponds to the body organ is palpated for diagnostic purposes and then, if treatment is needed, massaged in order to stimulate the healing energies.

The origins of reflexology go back to the time of the ancient Egyptians, and the art was also practised by healers in ancient Greece and China. Use of the therapy in the West was developed in the early 20th century by two Americans, Dr William Fitzgerald and Eunice Ingham. Fitzgerald proposed the theory that 10 zones of communication run the length of the body from head to toe, and that stimulating an area of the foot in one zone affects other parts of the body along the same zone. Eunice Ingham developed his ideas and her research on thousands of pairs of feet confirmed his findings.

Treatment is carried out with the patient lying or sitting barefoot, either on a couch or a reclining chair. A session typically lasts 30-40 minutes. The reflexologist uses the thumbs, fingers and hands to isolate any points that are particularly empty or full . By this means diagnosis of internal energy weakness can be made. It is important not to confuse a reflexologist’s comment that the kidney is weak with any suggestion that the kidney has a disease process. As in pulse-taking, the comment reflects the energy of the system and not the physiology. The therapist will then seek out and treat any painful areas with a compression technique, which clears congestion in the corresponding organ by improving lymphatic, blood and nerve circulation. It is thought that the sensitive lumps felt beneath the skin are crystalline deposits, and it is not uncommon to feel some pain during massage, as these deposits are dispersed.

Reflexology can help almost any condition, especially if used in conjunction with other more mainstream procedures. It is a highly effective way to detoxify the body and treat a wide variety of health problems, including skin disorders, digestive and menstrual problems, glue ear and colic in children, urinary and kidney disorders, migraine and chronic aches and pains. A recent study showed that reflexology helped knee operations to heal more quickly. Further trials need to be done but, in principle, reflexology is safe, pleasurable and, undoubtedly, of benefit.