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Reflecting on Reflexology?

What are your thoughts on reflexology as a healing technique? Is it a milder form of acupuncture?

Answer (Published 11/8/2002)

I think reflexology is great for aching feet. I love to have it done because it feels so good. But reflexology isn't a milder form of acupuncture, and I'm skeptical of claims that by massaging or applying pressure on points on the hands or feet, a reflexologist can treat problems in organs throughout the body.

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The only similarity between acupuncture and reflexology is that both "treat" at a distance. As you know, with acupuncture fine needles are inserted at specific points to relieve pain or treat problems elsewhere in the body. Reflexology holds that pressure on certain parts of the hands or feet can also affect distant parts of the body. The difference is that acupuncture has been around for 2,500 years and despite initial medical skepticism in the West, is now accepted as an effective alternative to conventional treatments for stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, low back pain, asthma as well as the side-effects of chemotherapy and nausea related to pregnancy. I've seen no evidence showing that reflexology is similarly effective for pain or any health problems unrelated to the feet and hands. In fact, just recently a study in England showed that foot reflexology is no better than traditional foot massage for relieving such menopausal symptoms as hot flashes, night sweats and depression. Reflexology has been studied clinically, but no results have emerged to show that it is any better than placebo for any of the medical problems for which it has been evaluated.

I would be wary of claims that reflexology can cleanse the body of toxins, increase circulation, promote weight loss, and successfully treat earaches, hemorrhoids, emphysema, heart disease, thyroid disorders and so on. Some licensed massage therapists and nurses offer reflexology, but bear in mind that no formal training is required to practice this therapy.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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