Focus on Spa Therapies: Reflexology

Reflexology is a popular healing modality featured on the menus at thousands of spas and wellness practices around the globe. As defined by the American Reflexology Certification Board, reflexology is “a non-invasive, complementary practice involving thumb and finger techniques to apply alternating pressure to reflexes shown on reflex maps of the body located on the feet, hands and outer ears.” Certified practitioners learn the meridians related to each pressure point. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, meridians are defined as a set of pathways in the body along which vital energy is said to flow.

Specific reflex points on the feet induce a healing response in corresponding organs and areas of the body. If sensitivity or tenderness is experienced when certain areas of the foot are stimulated, it usually indicates bodily weaknesses or imbalances within the corresponding organ. Reflexology helps clear any channels of blocked energy through moving the flow of blood, nutrients and nerve impulses to ultimately improve overall health and balance.


  • Decreases pain
  • Reduces Stress
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Increases circulation
  • Promotes healing
  • Balances energy

Research indicates that reflexology dates back to ancient Egypt, India and China. The history of modern reflexology in the U.S. dates back to the early 20th century and William H. Fitzgerald, M.D., a New England ear, nose and throat specialist who published his findings about what he called Zone Analgesia—using pressure points to relieve pain and other symptoms. Physical therapist Eunice D. Ingham is also credited with bringing reflexology to the forefront for establishing the National Institute of Reflexology. Known today as the International Institute of Reflexology, the organization has more than 25,000 members worldwide.

The effectiveness of reflexology is well-documented. In 1993, the first known scientific study on reflexology presented in a peer-review journal, Obstetrics and Gynecology, demonstrated the improvement of premenstrual symptoms treated with ear, hand and foot reflexology. Approximately 380 research studies show the positive effects of reflexology for many other medical conditions have been studied, according to the American Academy of Reflexology.

Other studies conducted on reflexology include “Comparing the effect of foot reflexology massage, foot bath and their combination on sleep quality of patients with acute coronary syndrome”; “Foot Reflexology Found to Ease Pain in Infants”; and “Foot Reflexology Eases Fatigue in Multiple Sclerosis Patients.” (

During a typical reflexology session, the client remains clothed, except for shoes and socks, and either sits or lies down. This makes it an ideal spa therapy if you are not comfortable taking your clothes off for a massage. The therapist asks the client if he or she has any areas of pain, tightness or injury, and for new clients the therapist completes an intake form. The therapist then applies pressure to various spots on the feet, hands or ears, depending on the client’s needs, although foot reflexology is the modality employed most often. The feet contain more than 7,000 nerve endings.

If you are interested in specializing in reflexology, several resources exist. The American Reflexology Certification Board, which offers board certification in the modality, is a good place to start. As with any specialized technique, specialized training must be completed in order to practice it. The International Institute of Reflexology, for example, offers an eight-day training that results in certification.