Reflexology (or foot reflexology) is a therapy based on the principle that there are small and specific areas of innervation in the hands and feet that correspond to specific muscle groups or organs of the body. In this system, the nerve endings in the extremities provide a “map” of the rest of the body. Examples are the base of the little toe representing the ear, or the ball of the foot representing the lung. Through the application of pressure on particular areas of the hands or feet, reflexology is said to promote benefits such as the relaxation of tension, improvement of circulation, and support of normalized function in the related area in the body.
You’d hope this sort of thing would be rare, but it’s not. Readers regularly tell me about massage therapists who do not ask them what they want, who dismiss their patients’ concerns about pressure, and who ignore signs that their clients are in pain. They display a “doctor knows best” arrogance — ironic for an alternative health care professional — imposing their own idea of the “right” intensity.
Find the right massage therapist. Look for a therapist who specifically identifies the massage type you’re interested in as part of their practice and background. If necessary, look for someone trained to treat a particular condition, such as sports injuries, fibromyalgia, arthritis, or pregnancy. Also check if the therapist is licensed or certified according to state requirements.
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Reflexology is one of the most used alternative therapies in Denmark. A national survey from 2005 showed that 21.4% of the Danish population had used reflexology at some point in life and 6.1% had used reflexology within the previous year. A study from Norway showed that 5.6% of the Norwegian population in 2007 had used reflexology within the last 12 months.
The best we can say is that there is some reason to believe that painful pressures on muscles might be therapeutic for some people some of the time. Pretty decisive, eh? This is why it drives me nutters that so many therapists insist that strong pressures are “essential” to achieve “a complete release.” It really isn’t possible to know! It really does depend! Why would anyone pretend to “know”?