2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Stress Less: Reflexology

Click here for the original post.

I personally postponed trying reflexology because of extreme ticklishness. Just the thought of something other than a floor or a pair of socks touching the soles of my feet sent shivers up my spine. It never dawned on me that connecting the soles of the feet to the meridians of Chinese medicine is the entire basis of reflexology.

I bit the bullet and located a certified reflexologist, clambered into his chair, and was chatting as he worked on my feet. Soon I felt that every muscle in my body was becoming more and more relaxed. Unlike my acupuncture experience, where I actually fell deeply asleep, with reflexology I simply felt all physical stress vanish from my body.

Finally I understood: it feels good when someone’s rubbing your feet. Within a block of my office five nail salons opened in one year, but it’s the pedicure stations that always seem full. Come Friday afternoon after a busy work week, there must be a hundred zoned-out women leaning back into those comfortable chairs, feet soaking in warm soapy water before rinsing, drying, and a gentle massage. The nail polish seems almost an afterthought.

A short history of reflexology You can trace therapeutic foot massage back to ancient Egypt and China. Despite many conventional physicians’ scorn of reflexology as a therapy for anything, I’m pleased to tell you it was an American ear-nose-throat specialist, William Fitzgerald, MD, who discovered that if you applied pressure to the fingers and toes, you could relieve pain in areas like the neck, face, and mouth. Fitzgerald divided the body into ten zones–five on each side of the body–each zone terminating in a single finger and toe. He named what he had discovered “Zone Therapy.”

You can probably guess that Fitzgerald was little-appreciated by his conventional colleagues, who for his efforts tried to take away his medical license. Later, a massage therapist, Eunice Ingham, mapped areas of the hands and feet that she felt “connected” with internal organs. She then developed techniques of foot and hand massage that could selectively treat affected areas. Ingham termed the various points on the hands and feet “reflexes.” Massaging these points sent energy flow up through Fitzgerald’s zones. She renamed zone therapy “reflexology.”

The concept makes a lot of sense in traditional Chinese medicine, where the zones correspond to meridians. In fact, the idea that the body can be mapped out on the hands and feet has its roots in Chinese medicine. Again, we’re back to energy flow rather than actual anatomy. Reflexologists believe that stimulating certain points (reflexes) allow the body’s natural energies (qi–pronounced “chee”) to flow freely and trigger natural healing processes. These practitioners don’t diagnose or treat any specific illness. Rather, when they perform an initial evaluation of your hands and feet, they are literally feeling for blockages to the natural energy flow, which they describe as “lumpy” or “gritty” sensations to their own fingertips.

Seeing a picture of the hand and foot with its reflexes mapped out helps show all this a little better than my description. You can view a reflexology map online by just Googling “reflexology map.”

There are several schools for reflexology and quite a few people have become certified reflexologists. Many are massage therapists who wanted to expand their area of expertise. A typical introductory session with a reflexologist includes a discussion about your health issues and concerns, and then a slow and careful examination called a “thumb walk,” which you can actually learn to do yourself.

With a thumb walk, you use the outside edge of your thumb to take little steps, or bites, up and down the sole and sides of the feet, repeating the process on the palms of your hands. This allows you to place pressure on individual points. According to practitioners, when you get good at it, you’ll actually feel areas of blockage and dysfunction during the thumb walk. The reflex areas are small, so the bites must be small as well.

A reflexology treatment session focuses on those newly revealed blocked zones, using a variety of techniques, including rubbing the zone with a hard object, like a golf ball. The key is to apply sufficient pressure, and that means you might actually feel a little (but not a lot of) pain. It’s a “good” hurt, though, as it releases blockages. Remember, there’s a difference between firm and painful.

Reflexology lends itself well to self-treatment and there are many instruction manuals on how to do it. Reflexologists encourage preventive maintenance, and a treatment session may end with instructions on how to do a little work on your feet every day. If you go to a health club or day spa, you might ask if the massage therapist is trained in reflexology– many of them are. Self-care reflexology is worth exploring. A few minutes every day can really make a difference in your life.

Next time: a quick and easy reflexology self treatment

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!


Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our


The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Upcoming Workshops

**Pain Relief with Myofascial Balls
Tuesday, October 29, 6-8pm
With Renee Zambo, C-IAYT Yoga Therapist

Course Fee: $65.00
(includes WholeHealth Chicago Myofascial Release Kit, $40 value)

Does that same spot in your neck, shoulders, back or hips seem to bother you every day? Do you have joint aches and pains in the hands and feet? Would you like to learn ways to alleviate that pain and tension?

Join WholeHealth Chicago’s Yoga and Movement Therapist Renee Zambo for an evening of muscle tension release with myofascial therapy balls.

Space is limited and registration is required.
Please register online.
Call the Center for additional information at (773) 296-6700

Recent Health Tips

  • Dandruff, Fungi, and Cancer of the Pancreas

    It’s an eye-catching title, I’ll admit. But the links are quite real and further research may guide medicine in new directions of cancer prevention and treatment. It all starts in your gut microbiome, the totality of microorganisms–bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi–present in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, mouth to anus. Until recently, researchers and clinical physicians alike paid virtually no attention to the microbiome and the Read More

  • New Hope For Sinus Sufferers

    When osteopath Dr. Rob Ivker moved to Colorado in the 1980s to set up his family practice, he had no idea that when he stepped off the plane he’d succumb to symptoms of chronic sinusitis that just wouldn’t go away: stuffy nose, thick mucus, pressure behind his cheekbones and above his eyebrows, dull aching headache, and thick goopy drainage in the back of his throat. Read More

  • Director of IV Therapies Katie McManigal, BSN, ANP

    Most people at some point in their lives have had an intravenous (IV) line. An adept nurse warned you about the tiny pinch of the needle as it was smoothly inserted and taped in place.  Then the  fluid dangling above your head slowly started making its way through a tube and into your body. IVs are all over the place in hospitals. They’re seen in Read More

October Sale – Save 20% off UltraMeal Rice

UltraMeal RICE is a tasty, non-dairy, nutritionally fortified, powdered meal replacement for those who want to support healthy body composition but may be sensitive to soy.

Click here to take advantage of this month’s promotion!