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Les bienfaits de la réflexologie plantaire.

Foot Reflexology: What are the benefits?

Foot reflexology is a form of alternative medicine that gained popularity in the early 20th century. This technique involves massaging specific points located on the feet. It is believed to be beneficial in alleviating stress, tension, and sleep disorders. Let's focus on the benefits of foot reflexology.

What is foot reflexology?

Foot reflexology has a long history. First appearing in an ancient Egyptian wall painting around 2330 BC, it notably emerged in the 20th century thanks to an American physiotherapist, Eunice INGHAM. In the 1930s, she mapped specific areas of the feet corresponding to parts of the body and developed the principles of reflexology as we know them today. Currently, this technique is very popular as it does not have any side effects.

This refers to a form of alternative therapy which involves applying targeted pressure to certain areas and specific points on the feet. According to the principles of foot reflexology, these areas and points correspond to organs, glands and other parts of the body. The entire body is thus projected onto the feet, making it possible to act on all systems: locomotor, respiratory, urinary, genital, circulatory, lymphatic, digestive, endocrine, auditory, optical and nervous.

This technique proposes to treat certain pathologies through foot massages. It helps to alleviate stress and bodily tensions. It is a form of gentle medicine that works in conjunction with traditional medicine. It is primarily used in the treatment of stress. It can address emotional disorders and pain. This technique is renowned for its ability to impact the entire body.

What are the benefits of foot reflexology?

Foot reflexology is known for its numerous benefits.

  • Reducing the sensation of fatigue.

    A session of foot reflexology could potentially reduce fatigue. Indeed, the pressure applied to specific points on the feet can stimulate blood circulation in the feet and legs. Improved circulation promotes the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells, which could help to alleviate feelings of fatigue.

    Furthermore, the reflex points of the feet are interconnected with various body systems through the nervous system. Stimulating these points can send signals to the brain that trigger a relaxation response.

  • Managing stress.

    It is possible to stimulate certain areas of the foot that can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation and the regulation of bodily functions during periods of calm. This can help to reduce the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the stress response.

    Stimulating reflexology points can influence the release of certain chemical substances in the brain, such as endorphins. These are neurotransmitters that are associated with feelings of well-being and pain relief, which can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation.

  • Reducing digestive disorders.

    Applying pressure points to certain areas of the feet, which correspond to specific organs in the digestive system such as the stomach, intestines, and liver, could improve blood circulation and energy in these organs. This could then help to reduce digestive disorders. Chronic stress can also have a negative impact on the digestive system by increasing the risk of disorders, such as functional gastrointestinal disorders. Therefore, foot reflexology could help to reduce stress, contributing to a decrease in associated digestive symptoms.

Foot reflexology is also reportedly effective in managing headaches, back pain, insomnia, respiratory disorders, and so on.

Foot Reflexology: What does the scientific literature say about this?

A scientific study was conducted to assess the effectiveness of foot reflexology on fatigue, sleep, and pain. A systematic review and meta-analysis were carried out on all published studies reporting the effects of foot reflexology on fatigue, sleep, and pain. Among these studies, 15 were associated with fatigue, 18 with sleep, and 11 with pain.

The methodological quality of each study, the characteristics of the subjects, the duration of the studies, the outcome measures, the effect size, and the main conclusions were analysed. From this data, they were able to measure the effect size, a statistical measure that allows the statistical magnitude of a therapeutic intervention to be defined. An effect size of 0.50 or greater was interpreted as a "medium-sized effect", and an effect size of 0.20 or greater as a "small-sized effect".

Regarding studies that focused on the effect of foot reflexology on fatigue: patients typically received 3 to 8 massages lasting 30 to 50 minutes. The effect sizes of these 15 studies ranged from 0.63 to 5.29, which interprets as a rather high effect size. For studies on sleep, the effect sizes of the 18 studies ranged from 0.01 to 3.22. In 7 studies, subjects received 1 to 4 massages lasting 30 to 50 minutes, and in 9 others more than 10 massages. For studies of foot reflexology on pain, patients on average received 10 massages lasting 20 to 30 minutes. The effect sizes of 11 studies evaluating the effects of foot reflexology on pain ranged from 0.43 to 2.67.

These results have been validated for fatigue and sleep issues. However, there is some uncertainty regarding the results on pain as the relevant studies may potentially have a publication bias, meaning these studies are more likely to present positive results than negative ones. Therefore, it was concluded that foot reflexology is an effective intervention that can alleviate fatigue and sleep disorders, but it is not a scientific remedy.

Another study examined the effect of reflexology on healthcare professionals who scored high on the Cungi stress scale. Of the 12 healthcare professionals who scored above 30 on the Cungi stress scale at the start of the study, 9 healthcare professionals, or 75%, noticed a decrease in their score to below 30 over time. Regarding individuals suffering from chronic symptoms, although no significant response was observed, these individuals reported an improvement in managing their symptoms. These results are encouraging but not sufficient to assert the effectiveness of this method.

Foot reflexology provides a state of relaxation and a sense of well-being reducing stress. Its scope of application is considerable, as it addresses various afflictions stemming from stress (such as digestive, muscular or sleep issues). However, it is important to note that foot reflexology is not a miracle cure and it cannot treat all conditions. Its effectiveness still needs to be established by solid scientific evidence.

How to perform foot reflexology?

Before beginning your foot reflexology session, ensure you are in a quiet place. The goal will be to stimulate specific points on the feet with your hands to promote relaxation. This technique can be performed with a bit of oil to facilitate movements.

In order to promote kidney stimulation, it is appropriate to apply targeted pressure to a specific point located in the centre of the foot. As for the stomach, the point to target is located inside the feet. These points are identified and categorised based on a mapping established in the 1930s, which allows for the precise determination of their location as well as the area they are supposed to stimulate.

Points de réflexologie plantaire.
Source: ERKEK Z. Y. & al. The Impact of Foot Reflexology on Anxiety Levels in Women During Labour. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2018).

Sources

  • LEE J. & al. Effects of foot reflexology on fatigue, sleep and pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing (2011).

  • GUILLON M. & al. L’impact de la réflexologie plantaire sur le stress des professionnels de santé. Revue Internationale de Soins Palliatifs (2015).

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