By Marthie Beumer, Therapeutic Reflexologist and Doula

Introduction to Reflexology

The specific origin of reflexology remains unclear, but it is believed that its roots date as far back as 5000 years ago in China.   Foot massage has been practiced by a variety of cultures including the Chinese, Japanese, Egyptians, and Indians.

It was as a result of the work of Eunice Ingham in the early 1900’s that Reflexology as we know it today was born. She applied pressure to particular points across the soles of the feet and discovered that this technique stimulated and helped the body to heal, rather than to provide only pain relief. Through her work, Ingham developed a ‘map’ of the whole body on the feet.

Out of this was born the teaching and practice of modern reflexology.

Defining Reflexology

Reflexology is based on the principle that every organ in the body is reflected in certain areas or reflexes of the feet, hands, and ears. By using various finger, thumb and hand pressure techniques on these reflexes, the natural healing potential of the body is promoted (see attached foot and hand charts).

Reflexology Versus Basic Massage

There is a huge difference between a foot massage and a therapy session by a qualified therapeutic reflexologist.

A foot massage aims to pamper and to make the recipient feel good, rather than to address health issues. Massage therapists make use of soothing oils or lotions, and use slow, firm, gentle, gliding strokes all over the foot.

A therapeutic reflexologist understands the anatomy of the foot, the anatomy and physiology of the human body and the pathophysiology of different diseases, and is able to design a treatment protocol, authoritatively and professionally to activate the natural healing capacity of the body.

A therapeutics reflexologist offers a holistic treatment that promotes health, encourages relaxation and balances the body systems. The therapist works within the pain tolerance level of the individual client and within her Scope of Practice.

  • Based on an assessment of all the reflexes, the reflexologist sets a protocol that aims to achieve balance and to activate the natural healing responses in the body.
  • The body’s response to specific finger and thumb pressure techniques (for example, tightness, sensitivity, granular areas, etc) can assist the therapist in identifying congestion and imbalances.
  • Imbalances in the health of the patient can also be identified by observing the colour of the feet and nails, the texture, tone, moisture and shape of the feet, and any markings on the skin.
  • She offers advice on conscious lifestyle changes that the client can make to facilitate healing processes.
  • Signs of emotional as well as physical wellness (or lack thereof) are observed, noted and addressed.
  • Where necessary she may refer the client to other Allopathic or complementary health practitioners.

Therapeutic Reflexologists are obliged, by law, to register with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa.

Reflexology and Massage in the Broader Context

All complementary health therapies recognize that their full benefits will only be reached if the client also follows a healthy lifestyle. This includes:

  • A diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise – a minimum of 20 minutes 3 times a week
  • Sleep – the body’s time for restoring itself
  • Rest – quiet time to balance the stress and hurry of our modern lives
  • Complementary health care to relieve the negative effects of stress and poor diet, to keep energy flowing freely, to release toxins and to reduce acidity which compromises immunity

Why Reflexology?

Reflexology is a gentle and non-invasive treatment that promotes health. In other words, it is a comprehensively natural and relaxing therapy that will help your body to get into a balanced state.

How Does it Work?

Every part of the body is reflected on specific areas or reflexes of the feet, hands and ears. A therapeutic reflexologist uses various hand, thumb and finger techniques to systematically apply pressure on these reflexes. This pressure affects a physical change in the body, such as relaxation, pain relief, improved circulation, reduced swelling of the feet and an overall feeling of well-being. This promotes the natural healing capacity of the body.

Reflexology reduces stress by generating deep tranquil relaxation, helping the body restore its balance and allowing itself to heal. It cleanses the body of toxins and impurities, stimulates the lymphatic system thus reducing the risk of infection and stimulates production of endorphins, the feel good hormone.

A Reflexology Treatment

The therapeutic reflexology treatment is a non-invasive therapy and does not claim to cure disorders, but can be used on its own or alongside conventional medical or alternative health care. It therefore follows a truly complementary approach.


Specific finger and thumb pressure techniques are used on the feet, lower legs, hands, arms, face and or ears to enable therapists to identify and respond to congestion and imbalances, for example, tightness in the chest reflexes [attributable to stress], sensitivity in the bladder reflexes [possible bladder infection], granular areas in the stomach and colon reflexes [likely constipation] etc.

If the therapeutic reflexologist applies firm pressure technique, this will prevent a ‘tickle’ sensation. During the session, different sensations may be experienced in certain reflex areas but the treatment should not be painful nor cause discomfort, but should rather be calming and comforting.

There may be a sharp pain, or the feet may feel very sensitive. Sensitivity varies from person to person, and from treatment to treatment. The therapist will adjust the pressure to suit the patient – who should be asked to comment on the sensations that he/she experiences.

Treatments are usually completed using gentle massage techniques which will leave the patient relaxed and soothed, thus enhancing the body’s capacity to utilize its natural healing potential.

Duration of Treatments

The treatment will generally last about 45 minutes for an average-sized foot. In some cases (such as the very young, the elderly or particular illnesses) shorter treatments over shorter intervals may be given to avoid over-stimulating the body. When the effects of the treatment have been monitored, sessions can be extended to last between 45 and 60 minutes. 

Who Can Benefit From Reflexology Treatments?

Reflexology can be used on babies, children and adults, and literally everyone can benefit. However, it is especially hand in:

  • Acute and chronic conditions
  • Stress related conditions
  • Sport injuries
  • Pregnancy, both in the antenatal and postnatal periods

Typical Reactions to a Reflexology Session

  • In some cases dizziness, nausea, tiredness or headaches may be experienced because of the body cleansing itself of toxin;
  • sleep patterns can improve as a result of the relaxed state of the body; skin tone and tissue texture may improve because of improved blood circulation;
  • stimulation of lymph nodes, kidneys and colon reflexes leads to more effective elimination of toxins caused by pollutants, bad diet, stress, etc.;
  • bodily functions are enhanced due to increase of oxygen levels and nutrient supply to every cell;
  • reflexology, after surgery, plays an important role as it may help to prevent adhesions forming and aid the healing process.
  • by reducing tension in the body the nervous system calms and functions more effectively in situations of stress and anxiety (frequently associated with modern illnesses);
  • physical and emotional tensions, accompanying serious illnesses such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, are released and
  • treatments and information are offered to encourage informed choices for healthier, more productive and balanced lives, thereby enhancing physical and emotional wellbeing.

Is therapeutic reflexology a safe treatment?

An increasing number of people are using this safe, natural therapy as a way of relaxing, balancing and harmonising the body. Be sure to give the reflexologist a complete and accurate health history.

Although reflexology treatment in cases of terminal illness for example cancer, multiple sclerosis and Aids, may not be capable of removing the causes of the illness, it does help with pain relief and makes the patient more comfortable.

Are there any contra indications?

Therapeutic reflexology is not contra-indicated in any conditions, although caution is to be taken in clients with:

  • Tumors and metastases
  • Deep vein thromboses
  • Broken/fractured bones (in the feet or ankles) while healing

In Conclusion

The reflexology treatment approach appreciates the complex makeup of the body, the uniqueness of each person and how emotional and mental stress can affect the body.

Therapeutic reflexology can help a person to take responsibility for their own health and to make better lifestyle decisions that will improve his/her quality of life.


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