While a reflexologist can address specific conditions of the body, they cannot and should not attempt to diagnose disease. In fact, Bill Flocco, the Director of the American Academy of Reflexology, says it can be dangerous to use reflexology to diagnose a condition (see Reference section). This is because the reflex points on the body may already be strained or sore, and they, therefore, won't give a clear read of the body. This breakdown in response can be a result of regular wear rather than an issue with the body system that the point corresponds to.
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Pregnant women should put their reflexology treatments on hold. "There are reflex points that can stimulate uterine contractions," says Colin. "You also don't want to do anything if the foot's already injured or unhappy," so recent foot surgery or plantar fasciitis flares are contraindications. He's also hesitant to work on anyone who isn't a candidate for traditional massage, such as those with blood-pressure issues.
Practices resembling reflexology may have existed in previous historical periods. Similar practices have been documented in the histories of China and Egypt. Reflexology was introduced to the United States in 1913 by William H. Fitzgerald, M.D. (1872–1942), an ear, nose, and throat specialist, and Edwin F. Bowers. Fitzgerald claimed that applying pressure had an anesthetic effect on other areas of the body. It was modified in the 1930s and 1940s by Eunice D. Ingham (1889–1974), a nurse and physiotherapist. Ingham claimed that the feet and hands were especially sensitive, and mapped the entire body into "reflexes" on the feet, renaming "zone therapy" reflexology. "Modern reflexologists use Ingham's methods, or similar techniques developed by the reflexologist Laura Norman."
Until better evidence is published in peer reviewed journals, he remains skeptical of claims that by massaging or applying pressure to specific points on the hands or feet, a reflexologist can alleviate problems in corresponding organs or other systems throughout the body. He has seen no evidence showing that reflexology is effective for pain or any health problems unrelated to the feet and hands. He urges caution with regard to claims that reflexology can cleanse the body of toxins, increase circulation, promote weight loss, or successfully treat earaches, hemorrhoids, emphysema, heart disease, thyroid disorders or any other health condition.
People with serious and long-term medical problems are urged to seek the advice of a physician. Diabetes patients in particular are urged to approach this therapy cautiously. Likewise pregnant women are cautioned emphatically to avoid reflexology during the early phases of pregnancy altogether, as accidentally induced labor and subsequent premature delivery can result from reflexology treatment.
Flushing. If massage can “improve” any tissue — unknown — one way it might do it is through simple hydraulics: physically pumping tissue fluids around, and/or stimulating the circulation of blood and lymph. I won’t get into the evidence about it here. Suffice it to say that it might be true, and if it’s true then it may not much matter if the process is uncomfortable. While gentler massage may feel pleasant and satisfying, it is possible that more biological benefits can only be achieved hydraulically — whether it’s comfortable or not. This is even more plausible because of trigger points: it’s likely that the tissue fluids of a trigger point are quite polluted with waste metabolites, and the need for flushing is greater, but it’s especially uncomfortable to squish those polluted patches of tissue.
Swedish massage is now gaining acceptance from the medical community as a complementary treatment. Studies have shown that massage can relax the body, decrease blood pressure and heart rate, and reduce stress and depression. It may also provide symptomatic relief for many chronic diseases. Many doctors now prescribe massage therapy as symptomatic treatment for headache , facial pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, other chronic and acute conditions, stress, and athletic injuries. Many insurance companies now reimburse patients for prescribed massage therapy. As of 2000, however, Medicare and Medicaid do not pay for this form of alternative treatment.