Reflexology: healing, harmless, or hazardous?

Reflexology: healing, harmless, or hazardous?

On Health and Religion

Elvin Adams, M.D., M.P.H., is an associate director of the Department of Health and Temperance.

The patient sits comfortably in a reclining position, feet, ankles, and lower legs bare and ex tended. A reflexologist faces the patient's feet and sometimes firmly, sometimes gently, presses and massages the soles, first one foot and then the other. He pays close attention to certain "reflexes" where tenderness reveals "deposits of crystals" indicating a "sluggishness of circulation" in one organ or another at some distant location in the body.

Reflexology claims to reestablish circulation in weakened or diseased organs. It supposedly releases the healing qualities of nature found within the body, re storing balance and health to the patient.

Today we find much emphasis placed on natural remedies. Part of the attraction of reflexology is its supposedly "natural" basis of operation. "Remember," says one writer, "[reflexology] is Nature's way, and Nature's way is also God's way; and I believe that with God on your side you cannot go wrong!" 1

Early in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Ellen White recognized the psychosomatic nature of many illnesses. "Sickness of the mind prevails everywhere. Nine tenths of the diseases from which men suffer have their foundation here."2

This also represents a common theme in reflexology. "Yes, they tell us that about 80 percent of all the illnesses we suffer today are from tension and emotions. Then if we, by compression foot massage, are able to relieve the tension and relax the individual, are we not being used also as instruments in the hands of God? And the wonderful thing about this natural way to restore health is that it is far superior to drugs, which years later leave their marks."3

Ellen White wrote about the value of natural remedies. "Pure air, sunlight, abstemiousness, rest, exercise, proper diet, the use of water, trust in divine power--these are the true remedies. Every person should have a knowledge of nature's remedial agencies and how to apply them. . . . The use of natural remedies requires an amount of care and effort that many are not willing to give. Nature's process of healing and upbuilding is gradual, and to the impatient it seems slow."4

Reflexology literature voices similar thoughts. "We live in a drug-oriented society, and because of this our nation is in a turmoil today. If more doctors would get patients away from drugs and lean more toward natural remedies, I think we would see a great change in our nation, a change for the better. ... If more patients talked to their doctors about natural remedies and their concern for preventive health care, I think more doctors would make a greater effort to practice preventive medicine. "5 To the reflexologist, however, a natural remedy is a foot massage rather than the items listed in The Ministry of Healing.

Ancient roots

Reflexology has roots in antiquity. It goes back to Oriental culture, and may have been practiced as long ago as 3000 B.C. "The basic pattern of energy flow is recognized in all the branches of natural healing acupuncture, Shiatsu, zone therapy, reflexology, and polarity therapy."6 The father of modern reflexology was Dr. William Fitzgerald, who divided the body into 10 zones vertically, five on the right side and five on the left.

According to the reflexologist, massage of the feet can determine the condition of all organs and lead to a correct diagnosis of disease. Through foot massage the functions of all organs of the body can be improved. "Foot reflexology is the study of the reflexes in the feet corresponding to all parts of the body. . . . Reflexology is the exciting and effective practice that it is because its goal is to stimulate the whole body, to encourage the return to homeostasis throughout all of the body's complex systems."7

The description of the theoretical basis of reflexology continues, "The reflexes in the feet are actually 'reflections' of the body parts. Their locations and relationships to each other on the feet follow a logical anatomical pattern which closely resembles that of the body itself. The premise of exactly how the reflexes of the feet correspond to the anatomy of the whole body is simple: the actual physical image of the body is projected on to them. This image is organized with the use of zone theory. "8

The mechanisms are described in this way: "There are channels of energy coursing through the body; each important organ and muscle is connected by a network of nerves to a tiny point on the foot where the energy terminates. . . . Crystalline deposits form at the nerve endings. By deep-compression foot massage, the deposits are broken up, encouraging the whole body to keep perking along at peak efficiency.... Clearing the energy pathways resulted [sic] in the restoration of vitality, balance, a disappearance of the symptoms of disease, and a consequent restoration of health."9

Another author on reflexology ex plains the system: "The body's vital force circulates along pathways, and we can tap it at an estimated 800 points on the body. . . . The hands as well as the feet contain 'reflex buttons' which are connected to all organs and glands. When these reflex centers are massaged, they send a stimulating surge of new vigor to whatever part of the body they are connected to; instantly and with no after effects such as we often suffer from medications. We are correcting imbalance in this primary flow and thereby helping nature do the healing." 10

Reflexology has been practiced by dedicated practitioners who ardently seek a partnership with practitioners in recognized disciplines of health care. Yet they have singularly failed to provide any objective evidence for their theory other than anecdotal claims of benefit. In several major works on reflexology, the strongest rationale given is the statement that "testimonials prove reflexology works. I can give you not hundreds, but thousands, of case histories I receive through the mail from people all over the world telling me of the wonderful results they are getting by using the simple method of reflex massage." 11

No credible evidence

Unfortunately, testimonials alone don't constitute credible evidence. The basic assumptions of reflexology are in error. Neurosurgeons and anatomists have carefully plotted all of the significant branches, ganglia, and pathways of the central and peripheral components of the nervous system. The greatest concentration of nerve tissue appears in the brain and spinal cord. All fingers, toes, arms, legs, organs--indeed all points in the body--have their representation in the brain, not the feet. There are no neurological "reflex" connections between the feet and any major organ of the body.

Disease processes in various organ systems do not produce crystalline deposits in the feet. Crystalline deposits do occur in the feet in the disease gout, in osteoarthritis, and in certain other conditions. Diabetes, heart attack, detached retina, depression, or peptic ulcer do not produce foot crystals. The reflexologist, however, believes that any disease or adverse function in any organ of the body produces crystalline deposits in a specific spot on the sole of the foot. Anatomists, physiologists, physical therapists, physicians, and those in basic science have clearly demonstrated that such is not the case.

Even more alarming is the list of diseases and conditions that reflexologists are willing to treat with supposed benefit. Although no significant harm can occur by receiving a foot massage under restful circumstances, if one puts undue faith in that process and thus avoids credible medical or surgical consultation, then the delay may result in further illness or death.

A partial list of conditions reflexology claims to treat effectively includes concussion, skull fracture, stroke, diabetes, hypoglycemia, over- and underactive thyroid function, asthma, kidney conditions, gallstones, liver diseases, incontinence of the bladder, hemorrhoids, neuritis, shingles, fibroid tumors, arthritis, alcoholism, cataracts, and the common cold. The list of conditions supposedly helped by reflexology goes beyond those treated by all the various disciplines of medicine.

"You need no longer live in fear of so-called incurable diseases," says one author. "Nothing is incurable diseases are the result of malfunctioning of cells and imperfection of the body tissues due to unnatural elements of living. ... I constantly search for new methods of natural healing, and when I find one that is better than the positive and simple methods of reflexology, I will bring this method to you." 12

Reflexology also claims to influence the mind and the development of extra sensory perception (ESP). "At night before you go to bed, take a pin and rub the head of the pin gently on this cross line of the middle finger, starting at the center where the vertical line runs and rub in one direction only. If you rub from the center of the finger toward the ring or fourth finger, you will dream of the future. If you stroke the pin head gently toward the index finger from the left line, you will dream of the past. ... Do this for about half an hour before going to bed. . . . Here we are using reflex massage to help us develop psychic energy, thus enabling us to contact and use 'Cosmic Awareness' and that Universal Sea of Wisdom which surrounds us all. "13

Through its ancient mystical roots, reflexology also sometimes contains an element of pantheism. "Your body is an instrument or vehicle through which life-principle, or God, is expressed. Every person walking the earth is God, or life, in manifestation." 14

All things possible?

Tapping these eternal mystical godlike qualities within ourselves through reflexology supposedly makes all things possible. "You can learn to use the full forces of reflexing your ESP, so that you may achieve what you desire from life." 15

One book on reflexology claims that rejuvenation becomes possible with reflexology, and even quotes Scripture for support. "Some of the ancient masters often spoke of cases of rejuvenation, but their accounts have not been understood. 16 'His flesh shall be fresh as a child's; he shall return to the days of his youth.' 'And thy youth shall be renewed like the eagle's.' 'These things worketh God oftentimes in man when man knows how to live in harmony with the law' (Job 33:25, 29; Ps. 103:5).

"Man's body is a materialization of the invisible gases of the air, consisting of electrolyzed and intelligized atoms. Man corresponds in color, number, and vibrations to the solar system at the moment of his birth. Mari (you) becomes embodied in a prison of matter, and man's mind is inseparable from cosmic elements.

"Your mind can, and does, control your body, and as soon as you believe there is hope for your renewed health and you start using God-given natural ways to turn the clock back, then 'shall your youth be renewed like the eagle's.'" 17

At the very most, reflexology is a relaxing foot rub. Some people may enjoy reflexology treatments and feel they receive benefit from them. We must realize, however, that the theories of reflexology conflict with fundamental truths of anatomy, physiology, psychology, and disease treatment. Furthermore, the use of reflexology identifies one with concepts of human nature that conflict with Christian truth.

In early Seventh-day Adventist history Ellen White warned of such disciplines. "Satanic agents claim to cure disease. They attribute their powers to electricity, magnetism, or the so-called 'sympathetic remedies,' while in truth they are but channels for Satan's electric currents. By this means he casts his spell over the bodies and souls of men." 18

What about all those hundreds and thousands who give testimonials about the benefits of reflexology? Can we ignore their experience? Ellen White comments on this type of benefit when she says, "Those who give themselves up to the sorcery of Satan may boast of great benefit received thereby, but does it prove their course to be wise or safe? What if life should be prolonged? What if temporal gain should be secured? Will it pay in the end to disregard the will of God? All such apparent gain will prove at last an irrecoverable loss. We cannot with impunity break down a single barrier which God has erected to guard His people from Satan's power."19

And what about all the inconsistencies between the theory of reflexology and the science of anatomy and physiology? Shall the great body of evidence amassed by science be discarded in favor of the discredited theory of reflexology? Ellen White comments on this also: "All truth, whether in nature or in revelation, is consistent with itself in all its manifestations. "20

The theory of reflexology conflicts fundamentally with a great body of knowledge established by many different scientific and healing disciplines.

1 Maybelle Segal, Reflexology (N. Hollywood,
Calif.: Melvin Powers Wilshire Book Co., 1976),
p. 1

2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 444.

3 Segal, p. 3.

4 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing,
p. 127.

5 Segal, p. 4

6 Anna Kaye and Don C. Matchan, Reflexology
for Good Health (N. Hollywood, Calif.: Melvin
Powers Wilshire Book Co., 1978), p. 10.

7 Kevin and Barbara Kunz, The Complete Guide
to Foot Reflexology (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1982), pp. 1, 2.

8 Ibid., p. 2.

9 Kaye and Matchan, p. 11.

10 Mildred Carter, Hand Reflexology: Key to Perfect
Health (West Nyack, N.Y.: Parker Pub. Co.
Inc., 1975), p. 10.

11 Ibid., p. 13.

12 Ibid., p. 10.

13 Ibid., pp. 221,222.

14 lbid.,p. 223.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid., p. 240.

I7 Ibid.,pp. 240, 241.

18 Ellen G. White, Evangelism, p. 609.

19 ____, Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 199.

20 ____, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 114.

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Elvin Adams, M.D., M.P.H., is an associate director of the Department of Health and Temperance.

August 1988

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