This is a question I am often asked by clients and the truth is there is no simple answer! I believe it works on several different levels meaning the benefits can be both deep and wide ranging.

The basic theory behind reflexology is that the whole body can be mapped out on the feet, with different points (called reflex points) corresponding to different areas of the body. For example, the big toe correlating to the head. You may well have seen a footmap like the one below:

By working on these points with various finger and thumb techniques, there is an indirect stimulation to that part of the body. This encourages the body to rebalance that part maybe by releasing tension or making it more active if it is sluggish.

For example, I often see people who have neck and shoulder tension, by working on the reflex points for neck and shoulders on their feet, it can encourage those areas to relax, allowing better movement and a reduction in pain. Slow digestion is also a common problem, so by working the stomach and bowel areas on the feet can encourage them to be more active and effective. People often find they need to toilet soon after a treatment!

Another example is in promoting natural labour, I see lots of women who are trying to avoid a medical induction and often a session or two of reflexology can stimulate the hormones to trigger spontaneous labour. It is even more effective to have regular treatment throughout pregnancy.

However, this is not all! A full reflexology treatment also puts the body and mind into a state of deep relaxation. This switches us from the sympathetic nervous system (the stimulating, activity driving and, when extreme, fight or flight mode) to our parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and repair mode). When we are in this rest and repair mode our body focuses its energy on tissue repair, immunity, digestion and it promotes hormonal balance and better sleep. So in addition to focusing on specific problem areas, there is a whole body effect which promotes healing.

Thirdly, in a similar vein to eastern therapies such as acupuncture and shiatsu, there is a theory that reflexology also helps to release blockages and restore the healthy flow of vital energy (known as chi, qi or prana) around the body.

What is not precisely clear is what the nature of the connection to the parts of the body is. Some have suggested it is via nervous system as the feet are very nerve rich. This may well be a contributory factor, however I have worked with some people who have spinal injuries and are paralysed from the waist down. In their case the nerve connection had been severed and they had no sensation in their feet. Nonetheless, they experienced the exact same effect as others – getting relaxed and sleepy during the session and having less, pain and better digestion the next day. That confirmed my instinct that there is an energetic layer to the body which reflexology accesses as well as the physical.

Which leads me to my final point. That reflexology is a holistic therapy and most therapists work on the basis that there are several interdependent layers to a human being that all need to be in harmony for optimum mental and physical health. These layers are physical, energetic, mental, emotional and for some spiritual. When reflex points on the feet show up as being out of balance, it could be down to any of these layers and bringing that point back into balance may result in a release or change in any of these layers. So as well as physical improvements in my clients, I have also seen mental and emotional improvements. Often they are interlinked – a thought can lead to an emotion which can lead to a physical reaction. Or the reverse, a physical issue can cause an emotion which can affect your thinking. When we think of healing on these levels, there is the potential for big shifts in wellbeing.

So as you see – there is no quick an easy answer to how does it reflexology work, but I hope you have a better understanding of this powerful and versatile therapy.

If you have any further questions do feel free to contact me. I am happy to offer you a free 15 minute consultation about your health issue and to see whether reflexology is the right approach for you.


Jenni Stone |
Association of Reflexologists |