Can Reflexology Help Ease Arthritis?

Reflexology is an ancient practice involving the use of the thumbs and fingers to exert pressure on certain points of the feet that are believed to correspond to particular points on the body. By manipulating the right spots on the feet, practitioners assert that they can alleviate pain and other problems in the corresponding body parts. They also maintain that reflexology reduces inflammation-causing stress, stimulates the circulatory system, balances the cortisone-producing adrenal glands, and allows the body to release endorphins, a natural painkiller.

How exactly does reflexology work? According to reflexologists, the pressure points on the feet are located in roughly the same spots they are on the rest of the body. In other words, the toes correspond to the head and brain while the heels correspond to the lower back and extremities. "Every part of your body-organs, glands, bones, everything-are reflected on the foot in a mirror image," says Lynn Watson, a certified reflexologist in Bartlett, Tennessee. "[Reflexology] tends to free up the circulation of the whole nervous system." The result? Reduced pain in troublesome areas.

While large-scale studies of reflexology as a treatment for arthritis patients are lacking in the U.S., China has conducted several smaller studies that demonstrate the benefits of this kind of therapy. In one study, 23 rheumatoid arthritis patients were given daily reflexology sessions of 30 to 60 minutes or longer, combined with other natural therapies. After about a month of the daily sessions, nine arthritis sufferers had shown marked improvement regarding joint pain, swelling, and tenderness. Thirteen patients showed improvement, and only one arthritis sufferer got no relief at all. In another study, a middle-aged woman with joint pain all over her body who had taken prescription medication for three years without getting any relief received reflexology sessions for 20 minutes, along with faradotherapy (therapy using an electric current). After just six sessions of reflexology, her pain was relieved. Other studies yielded similar results.

Reflexology is not a cure for arthritis, and additional treatments may still need to be incorporated for the best results. But like massage and other alternative or natural remedies, reflexology can be a great complement to a more conventional treatment plan that includes pain medication, exercise, and heat therapy.


Reflexology Association of America

Lynn Watson, RCR, CA

Nancy Bartlett, NBCR