Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, July/August 2011. Copyright 2011. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
Reflexology provides stimulus to pressure sensors of the hands (and feet), prompting a reflexive response throughout the entire body. This reflex effect occurs as the body automatically and unconsciously resets its stress mechanism. When reflexology techniques are applied to a specific part of the hand, a specific relaxation response occurs in a corresponding body part. The result is a noninvasive, gentle, albeit effective technique that is being widely utilized for a variety of conditions and applications.Reflexology and Zones
Reflexology theory is based on zone theory. Just as the meridians of acupuncture link one part of the body to another, reflexology links the hand and the foot to the body and its organs.
Zone theory divides the body into 10 zones--one for each finger and toe. Applying pressure to one part of a zone creates an effect along the zone. For example, pressure applied to the index finger creates a reaction, a relaxation response, along zone 2 anywhere in the body. Lateral markers provide a further link between body and hand. This system of links is further refined and explained through reflexology maps.
Reflexologists utilize reflexology maps and zone charts in order to plan their strategy: where to apply technique, how much to apply, and for how long are key questions for a focused approach to prompting the relaxation response. The reflexology map is used as a tool to focus work on specific organs, systems, or functions of the body that may be under stress.
In reflexology hand maps, the body's anatomy is mapped onto reflex areas on the fronts and backs of the hands. In the maps shown, broken lines indicate where reflex areas overlap.
- Top of Left Hand. The top of the left hand includes a series of banded reflex areas that relate to the left side of the body, from the left side of the head to the left knee. Reflex areas for the groin, lymph glands, and fallopian tubes can be found on the wrist.
- Left Palm. Reflex areas on the left palm correspond to the left side of the body: head and neck areas on the fingers, tailbone near the wrist. The shoulder reflex is on the outside and the spine reflex on the inside.
- Right Palm.Reflex areas on the right palm mirror the right side of the body. Since the two sides of the body have different internal organs, there are differences between the reflexology maps for the right and left hands. For example, the liver reflex area is represented only on the right palm.
- Top of Right Hand. The reflex areas on the right hand correspond to the body's right side. The waistline can be found at the base of the long bones. Locate the upper back reflex area just above the waistline. Below it are the areas for the lower back, hips, and the internal organs they protect.Addressing Specific Health Concerns
Applying reflexology work to the whole hand prompts overall relaxation and a sense of well-being, as well as relaxing the hand itself. When addressing specific health concerns, technique application is focused on specific reflex areas corresponding to the parts of the body that are giving rise to concern. Specific reflex areas can be worked on as part of a larger bodywork session, or, if time is short or the problem acute, they can be targeted in a specially tailored mini session.
When planning a mini session to target a specific health concern, focus attention on the reflex area that corresponds to the particular area of concern. For some issues, the section of reflex areas will follow the reflexology chart: for example, if the health concern is with the function of the lungs--as with disorders such as asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema--then the reflexology work will target the lung reflex.
In addition to the primary reflex area, however, additional reflexes may be chosen for their impact on particular health concerns. For example, as well as working the lung reflex area, the adrenal reflex gland may also be targeted to help relieve symptoms of bronchitis. The adrenal glands are responsible for producing hormones that are needed for fighting inflammation, so work applied to this reflex area may prompt speedier healing.
Stress is a factor in some 80 percent of health concerns and, in those cases, reflex areas corresponding to the body's tension spots are targeted for additional technique emphasis. When planning a mini session to relieve an upset digestive system, for example, the solar plexus reflex area (which can be worked to relieve tension and stress) will be included along with the reflex areas of the stomach, small intestine, and colon.
As you apply reflexology techniques, take note of which reflex areas give the best results. You may find a particular combination of reflex areas that works best for you or your clients. If you find that work on a specific part of the hand feels good, give extra time there. Stress
In the vast majority of health concerns, stress plays a contributory role. Reflexology provides a safe and effective method of general stress control, as well as a means of easing the impact of stress on specific parts of the body. For general stress reduction, work on the solar plexus and the adrenal gland reflex areas, applying the technique for longer periods of time until you achieve relief.Working The Hands
When working the solar plexus reflex, enhance the effect by pressing and holding the pressure in place for a few seconds.
Clasp the client's wrist with your right hand to keep the hand steady. Pinch the webbing between thumb and fingers, pressing repeatedly on the adrenal gland reflex area with the tip of the index finger.
To find the solar plexus reflex area, straighten the fingers of the right hand. Place the tip of your left index finger in the center of the fleshy palm, midway along the long bone below the thumb. Press repeatedly.Back and Neck Pain
It is best to apply this technique to a broad portion of the relevant reflex area. To work the spine reflex area, make a series of passes to one side of the reflex area, followed by one down the center, and then one slightly to either side.
To relieve tension in the neck, hold the thumb steady below the first joint with the holding hand, then apply a side-to-side movement at the joint. Move the thumb several times, then repeat the action on each finger.
Thumb-walk down the side of the index finger through the neck reflex area. Make several passes over each joint, then reposition and repeat on each finger in turn.
Hold the hand in place and thumb-walk up the spine reflex area, making several passes over a broad area of the thumb. Reposition the walking thumb as necessary.
Hold the fingers to steady the hand and apply the multiple finger-walking technique to the back of the hand. Cover the entire area with successive passes.Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a repetitive strain injury resulting from compression of the median nerve at the wrist. Symptoms include pain, numbness, and tingling in the fingers, hands, and forearms. In some cases, the condition is associated with occupations that involve repetitive hand movements, such as keyboarding. The following techniques will help relax the hand and may reduce the symptoms.Working The Hands
Before you begin work, review with the client which directions of movement or parts of the hand are particularly sensitive.
Pull gently on the thumb with one hand, while stretching the hand back with the other.
Thumb-walk lightly between the heels of the hand--the impacted median nerve is in the area between the two heels of the hand (Image 10).
Holding the hand as shown, press down with the fingers while pushing up with the thumb.Arthritis
Arthritis is a painful condition involving inflammation of the joints. Since arthritis affects the whole body, aim to work the whole hand and encourage a better range of motion. Work the kidney reflex area to help eliminate waste products from the body, and the adrenal gland reflex areas to help fight inflammation, a characteristic of arthritis. Targeting the solar plexus reflex area can relieve tension, which is a contributory factor in arthritis.Working The Hands
When working on someone with arthritic hands, be gentle and ensure that you work within the client's comfort zone.
To encourage better flexibility, grasp the index finger and pull gently. Repeat on each digit on both hands.
Gently squeeze the base of the finger and repeat along the entire length of the finger. Repeat on each digit.
Apply the finger side-to-side movement to the joints of each finger and thumb, being careful not to use too much force.
For a calming effect, thumb-walk lightly throughout the solar plexus reflex area, making several successive passes.
From easing backache to boosting low energy to easing the pain in arthritic hands, reflexology can be applied for a host of different conditions, both for client and therapist. This feature (and accompanying artwork) is adapted from
Hand Reflexology by Barbara and Kevin Kunz (New York: DK Publishing, 2006), reprinted with permission of DK Publishing. All rights reserved.