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An example of a reflexology chart, demonstrating the areas of the feet that practitioners believe correspond with organs in the "zones" of the body.   An example of a reflexology chart, demonstrating the areas of the feet that practitioners believe correspond with organs in the "zones" of the body.

Reflexology, or zone therapy, is the practice of massaging, squeezing, or pushing on parts of the feet, or sometimes the hands and ears, with the goal of encouraging a beneficial effect on other parts of the body, or to improve general health.

There is no consensus on how reflexology does or could work in practice; a unifying theme is the idea that areas on the foot correspond to areas of the body, and that by manipulating these one can improve health through one's qi.[1]

Concerns have been raised by medical professionals that treating potentially serious illnesses with reflexology, which has no proven efficacy, could delay the seeking of help from proven conventional medicine.[2]

Claimed mechanisms of operation

Reflexologists posit that the body contains an energy field, invisible life force, or Qi, the blockage of which can prevent healing.[1]

Other reflexologists claim to be able to relieve stress and pain in other parts of the body through the manipulation of the feet.[3]

Other proposed effects of reflexology include the release of endorphins (natural pain killers found in the body), the promotion of lymphatic flow in the body or the dissolving of uric acid crystals.

These hypotheses are rejected by the general medical community, citing a lack of scientific evidence and the well-tested germ theory of disease.[4]


The precursor of modern reflexology was introduced to the United States in 1913 by William H. Fitzgerald, M.D. (1872-1942), an ear, nose, and throat specialist, and Dr. Edwin Bowers. Fitzgerald claimed that applying pressure had an anesthetic effect on other areas of the body.[5]

Reflexology was further developed by Eunice D. Ingham (1899-1974), a nurse and physiotherapist, in the 1930s and 1940s.[6][7] Ingham claimed that the feet and hands were especially sensitive, and mapped the entire body into "reflexes" on the feet. It was at this time that "zone therapy" was renamed reflexology.

Modern reflexologists in the United States and the United Kingdom often learn Ingham's method first, although there are other more recently developed methods.[4]


Common criticisms of reflexology are the lack of central regulation, accreditation and licensing, the lack of medical training provided to reflexologists, and the short duration of training programmes. Diplomas in reflexology can be attained with as little as six months of home study;[8] and the lack of licensing and regulation allows anyone to practice as a reflexologist with no qualifications.

Reflexology's claim to manipulate energy (Qi) has been called pseudoscientific as there is no scientific evidence for the existence of life energy, Qi, 'crystalline structures' or 'pathways' in the body.[9]

Reflexology charts

A reflexology chart shows the "reflex zones" worked by reflexologists on the soles of the feet. Similar maps exist for the position of the reflexes on the hands and ears.

In this chart, the color codes represent the following organs or parts of the body:

       Brain        Stomach
       Sinuses        Spleen
       Voice        Liver
       Pituitary gland        Gall Bladder
       Neck and Throat        Adrenal Gland
       Eyes        Pancreas
       Ears        Kidney
       Armpit        Ureter
       Shoulder and Arm        Bladder
       Lung and Breast        Colon
       Heart        Small Intestine
       Thyroid and Bronchial        Coccyx
       Solar Plexus        Sciatic Nerve
       Diaphragm        Peyer's Patches

Reflexology in the Media

An episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (1-02 Alternative Medicine) focused on reflexology. The original airing was February 7, 2003.
The Real Hustle mentioned reflexology as part of a weight loss scam (Season 4 Episode 2).


  1. Norman, Laura; Thomas Cowan (1989). The Reflexology Handbook, A Complete Guide. Piatkus, 22, 23.
  2. Reflexology (html) (english). National Council Against Health Fraud (1996).
  3. What is Reflexology? (html) (english).
  4. Natural Standard. Harvard Medical School (July 7, 2005).
  5. Norman, Laura; Thomas Cowan (1989). The Reflexology Handbook, A Complete Guide. Piatkus, 17.
  6. Benjamin, Patricia (1989). "Eunice D. Ingham and the development of foot reflexology in the U.S.". American Massage Therapy Journal. 
  7. Massagenerd.com Presents History of Massage, Therapies & Rules (pdf) (english).
  8. The Open College reflexology diploma course (html) (english).
  9. Barrett, Stephen (2004-09-25). Reflexology: A close look. Quackwatch.

External links

Professional bodies and organisations


NCCAM has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your primary health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCAM.

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