Foot reflexology is a type of bodywork which focuses on the feet, with the practitioner manipulating reflex areas in the feet which are said to correspond with specific areas of the body. This bodywork modality can be used as complementary medicine, with a patient getting foot reflexology treatments in addition to other types of care, and some people also believe that it is effective as alternative medicine, in which foot reflexology is the primary treatment provided to the patient. A number of claims are made both for and against this form of bodywork, but foot reflexology is unlikely to cause harm, even if it does not directly generate benefits.
Precursors of reflexology were practiced as early as the second millennium BCE in Egypt. Modern reflexology practice emerged in the early 20th century. According to the principles of reflexology, specific reflex areas or zones in the feet, hands, and ears correspond to areas of the body, and pressure in these zones can bring disturbed areas of the body into balance. Foot reflexology focuses on the zones in the feet in particular, and is one of the most widely practiced forms of reflexology.
In a foot reflexology session, the practitioner applies firm pressure to zones of concern in the feet after talking to the patient. Some reflexologists claim to be able to diagnose specific medical issues while handling the feet, looking for areas of disturbed energy in the reflex areas, while others prefer to interview the patient to find out about areas of concern, and apply pressure based on this interview. Foot reflexology may also be integrated into a massage or bodywork session which encompasses the whole body, not just the feet.
One of the biggest concerns with foot reflexology is that it is largely unregulated, which makes it difficult for consumers to select qualified practitioners. In most regions of the world, anyone can advertise reflexology services, whether or not the practitioner has received training. Professional organizations of reflexologists which set minimum standards for membership have tried to create a voluntary regulation system, but consumers may not be familiar with the standards set by these organizations, or with the meaning of various certifications a reflexologist claims to have. Consumers should do their research ahead of time if they are interested in foot reflexology, finding out where a reflexologist trained, how many hours of formal training he or she has received, and contacting professional organizations to find out about their standards for certification.
Studies on this type of bodywork seem to suggest that it does not confer benefits when it is used to address specific medical issues. However, foot reflexology can be relaxing and enjoyable, which can certainly be beneficial to patients. Like other forms of bodywork, it is a good idea to consult a doctor before making a reflexology appointment, to confirm that reflexology is not contraindicated.