Mechanisms and Outcomes of Reflexology: Most Recent Studies and Evidences of Benefits

Deeper investigation into reflexology as well as evolving imaging techniques allow to better understand how Reflexology works as a complex - if not complete therapy - or as diverse “Therapeutic Modalities” depending on the nature of reflexology applied (Foot Reflexology types vary in their choice of : reflex points protocol, pressure intensity, patterns of movements, frequency/duration of treatment,  and other factors or a combination of factors.)

Mechanisms. Reflexology and how it works is explained through:

  • The Reflex Zone Theory
  • The highly sensitive nature of the human foot: it is one of the body´s most sensitive area to sensory stimulation, rich in mechanoreceptors innervation.
  • The mechanotransduction effect of reflexology stimuli (or the ability of a cell to actively sense, integrate, and convert mechanical stimuli into biochemical signals that result in intracellular changes, such as ion concentrations, activation of signaling pathways and transcriptional regulation.)
  • The piezoelectric effect of reflexology stimuli and its impact on the autonomic nervous system and neural transmission.
  • The changes and balancing effects of reflexology on the fascial system (Fascia is a system that surrounds, interweaves between, and interpenetrates all organs, muscles, bones and nerve fibres, endowing the body with a functional structure, and providing an environment that enables all body systems to operate in an integrated manner), molecular and muscoskeletal systems. (“The plantar fascia on the sole of the foot manipulated during reflexology, links to the Achilles tendon which sits within the superficial back line of fascia, tracing up the back of the leg, onwards to the spine and then over the back and top of the head to the brow. The myofascial transition of plantar fascia-gastrocnemius; gastrocnemius-hamstrings; hamstrings-lumbar fascia/erector spinae/occipito-frontalis is of particular interest for the reflexologist. Working the reflexes on and around the plantar fascia may have an effect on those body parts, as adjustment and release occurs all the way up from foot to head.”)
  • Therapeutic relationship : psychological benefits of therapist/patient interconnection, rapport and empathy
  • Therapeutic touch: beneficial nature of human touch
  • Hawthorne effect (change of patient´s reaction and behaviour when allowing/receiving increased attention )
  • Placebo effect
  • Encouraging, diagnose-free, natural healing environment

Outcome and Benefits:

  • Stress and techno-stress modulator
  • Hormonal balance
  • Haemodynamic effects (or improvement of blood flow)
  • Improved propioception  (the body's ability to sense movement, action, and location), stability and balance. (“Studies have shown that the retinacula of the ankle and foot are rich in nerve fibres and proprioceptors...which, through stimuli...deliver signals to the brain about spatial positioning and effective movement in space.”
  • Induces sleep-state brainwaves leading to
    • Better sleep and rest
    • Improvement of inmune system
    • Improvement of anxiety and depression
    • Heightened cognitive functions
    • Improved digestive functions
    • Reduced pain perception (threshold, tolerance, duration)
    • Improved inflammatory conditions
    • Release of muscular tension
    • Facilitates adaptation to circadian movements
    • Urinary bladder control

Reflexology: Exploring the mechanism of action. JudithWhatley, JoannePerkins, CarolSamuel. Elsevier Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice - Volume 48, August 2022, 101606

Principios de Reflexologia Dr. Jesus Manzanares Corominas, Paidos Iberica Ediciones, Sp