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Foot reflexology is a treatment that’s been practiced for centuries. It involves applying pressure to different points on the bottom of the foot.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, these points correspond to different areas of the body. They are believed to have multiple benefits, including reducing stress, aiding digestion, and promoting sound sleep.

“Reflexology is commonly known as a holistic practice performed on the feet,” says Brian Goodwin, esthetician, herbalist, and international educator at Eminence Organic Skin Care. “The concept is that there are meridian points on the feet that correspond with various organs in the body.”

According to Dr. Dustin Martinez, a Los Angeles-based chiropractic physician, research shows that reflexology can improve quality of life in a number of ways. This involves reducing stress and bringing balance to the system.

“Reflexology is ancient medicine — it’s been around forever,” he says. “It can be traced as far back as 2330 B.C.”

According to Martinez, reflexology was given its current name in the United States in the early 1900s.

Reflexology may be beneficial as a treatment alongside other treatments for a condition, but be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new treatment.

It’s important to note that although reflexology has been practiced in many countries for thousands of years, there is scant scientific evidence available to prove its effectiveness.

A 2015 study noted that strong evidence to support foot reflexology is lacking, despite many small-scale trials and anecdotal evidence.

If nothing else, foot reflexology may be a soothing, relaxing way to wind down and give some massage-like attention to your feet.

Foot reflexology may help with:

  • stress and relaxation
  • digestion
  • eye strain
  • improved sleep

Stress and relaxation

One of the key benefits associated with reflexology is relaxation and stress-management. This is achieved by applying pressure to certain points on the feet.

“Relaxation is probably the biggest benefit [of foot reflexology],” says Martinez. “Reflexology helps by increasing blood flow through the body, which helps to decrease stress and anxiety and lower blood pressure. When you feel less stress and less anxious, it’s easy to feel relaxed.”

In the 2015 study mentioned above, the authors observe that a common benefit of reflexology may be reducing stress and inducing general relaxation. Additionally, the study notes reflexology may be one way to interrupt the pattern of repetitive lifestyle stress by “helping the body systems to return to their natural state.”

If you try reflexology for stress management or relaxation, consider having multiple sessions. According to the study, one session may interrupt the stress response, but multiple sessions are recommended for optimal benefits.

Digestion

Martinez notes that reflexology may help with digestion.

“One of the reflex points found on your feet is connected to your stomach—when this particular point is stimulated, it will increase blood flow to your stomach, helping to improve digestion,” he says.

Eye strain

“Reflexology can help to reverse some of the stress we put on our eyes just from our daily activities,” says Martinez. “These pressure points help to relax the tight muscles caused by looking at our screens all day.”

Improved sleep

Considering reflexology may be beneficial in helping you to relax and reduce stress, it’s no surprise that some say it may help promote a more restful night’s sleep.

“Because reflexology is moving energy and improving overall circulation, it’s easy to have a restful night’s sleep after a treatment,” explains Martinez.

According to Martinez, reflexology is not for everyone.

“If you have circulatory issues, gout, or a history of blood clots, [foot reflexology] is probably not the best treatment for you,” he says.

Always talk with your doctor before starting a new treatment to determine whether it’s appropriate for you.

Caution

Reflexology is not recommended for those with gout, a history of blood clots, or circulatory issues.

If you’re pregnant, consult a doctor before trying reflexology. There are concerns associated with foot reflexology and stimulating labor.

While massage and foot reflexology are both known for their relaxing benefits, they have different functions.

“Foot reflexology is a therapeutic massage with sustained pressure instead of broad strokes, like a classic massage,” explains Martinez. “Fine detail and pressure are applied to specific reflex points and held until released.”

A massage might be more beneficial for overall relaxation and muscle aches, whereas reflexology may be able to target specific concerns with focused points on the feet.

According to Goodwin, some people experience immediate relief, especially when it comes to pain and anxiety. He emphasizes that each case is individual and there is no universal timeline for improvement.

Martinez notes that you can expect to be a little sore, but in a good way.

“As long as you find the right practitioner who listens to your body and can [apply] the right technique, you should be fine,” he says.

Martinez suggests you communicate openly with your practitioner about what level of pressure feels appropriate and comfortable for you.

According to Martinez, the majority of patients notice benefits after their first reflexology session.

“Everybody is unique and heals in their own timing,” says Martinez. “In general, reflexology best complements natural healing already taking place.”

While you may be able to feel the effects of reflexology after just one treatment, it’s advised to continue using reflexology alongside other doctor-recommended treatments for best results.

While reflexology may not be scientifically proven as a medical treatment for disease, it’s been used for centuries to treat a multitude of ailments.

Foot reflexology may be beneficial as a complementary treatment, but scientific evidence is lacking.

It’s important to talk to your doctor before trying reflexology. Those with circulatory issues, gout, or blood clots should avoid it.


Daley Quinn is a beauty and wellness journalist and content strategist living in Boston. She’s a former beauty editor at a national magazine, and her work has appeared on sites including Allure, Well + Good, Byrdie, Fashionista, The Cut, WWD, Women’s Health Mag, HelloGiggles, Shape, Elite Daily, and more. You can see more of her work on her website.