Reflexology may not be as familiar a health alternative to you as, say, acupuncture, but its health benefits are worth exploring. It can help reduce the intensity of stress, migraines, back pain and more, but what’s perhaps most attractive to those who receive it is that it is a noninvasive, medication-free pain relief solution.


Though modern reflexology techniques were developed in the early 1900s, the roots of this treatment go back to ancient Egypt and China. Reflexology works on the premise that energy moves along channels throughout the body. This energy becomes accessible through points along the surface of the feet, hands and ears.

By pressing reflexology points at specific locations along these energy channels, a reflexologist can relieve energy blockages “reflexively” connected to organs, glands and various body parts. “It’s this unblocking of energy that facilitates the benefits of this ancient healing modality,” says Jordan Barton, L.M.T., a massage therapist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. Manipulating these pressure points also stimulates the nervous system, encourages the release of feel-good endorphins and enhances the functioning of the lymphatic system.

This is similar to the approach used by acupuncturists, who instead apply thin needles at certain points all over the body to achieve the same results. Recently, Chinese researchers claimed to have located these acupoints on CT scans. 

Small studies indicate reflexology’s usefulness in treating conditions such as PMS, headaches, asthma, back pain, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. Other research has shown that reflexology may be beneficial for managing pain and other symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis and cancer, and even non-pain-related concerns, such as anxiety.


The reflexology session, which can range from 30 to 60 minutes in length, will begin with you lying on a table or sitting in a chair with your bare feet exposed. Most reflexologists start by reflexing the feet and/or the hands, and they often utilize specific techniques when stimulating the reflex points. You should never feel pain during your treatment, but you may feel pressure on your feet and tingling in other areas of the body. Many reflexologists end the session by showing you how to perform simple reflexology techniques for self-treatment at home. It may also be recommended that you return for weekly sessions for one to two months, depending on your health concerns.

While most people feel pleasantly relaxed and calm after a reflexology session, some experience uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea, fatigue and mood swings.