After a long day pounding the pavement in your favorite leather slingback pumps, your soles could seriously use a little TLC. But should you go for a standard foot massage or try reflexology (and what the heck is the difference, anyway)? Here’s the scoop.
So, what is it? Reflexology is a type of alternative therapy based on the idea that different points on the feet (and hands, too) correspond to specific muscles or organs in the body. A reflexologist will apply pressure on these points in order to release tension, improve circulation and promote health in the related area of the body. Let’s say, for example, that you’ve been having some trouble with your ears—a reflexologist would focus on the base of the little toe. Heart problems? The center of the foot. For back issues, look to the big toe. (You get the idea.)
And does it actually work? Well, yes and no. There’s little scientific evidence to support the theory that touching certain areas of the foot can affect specific parts of the body, and reflexology definitely shouldn’t be used to heal anything. But many studies do show that reflexology can be beneficial to well-being in general, by increasing relaxation and lowering stress (similar to other forms of massage).
What does it feel like? During a reflexology session, shoes and socks are removed, and you’ll either sit back or lie down in a comfortable position. Unlike during a foot massage, your reflexologist usually won’t use any lotions or oils, but will apply pressure with their fingers according to a specific map, working their way around your feet. “Depending on your own personal pain tolerance and what issues are going on in your body, reflexology can sometimes hurt,” certified reflexology and massage therapist Lakshmi (Ambujam) Keyes tells us. But, in general, most people find that it’s a pleasant sensation. A typical reflexology session lasts 30 to 60 minutes.
Should I try it? You don’t have to buy into the whole foot-body theory to know that applying pressure on your feet can help relieve aches and pains—and feels pretty damn good, too. So, if you feel like you need a little pampering in that department, we say go for it. Just make sure you use a certified professional and check with your doctor first if you’re pregnant. Or hey, why not try the practice on yourself? “Reflexology is the ultimate in self-care,” Keyes says. “Even if you don't know the pressure points, just try massaging your own feet for ten minutes a day to try to feel the areas of tightness and release them.” We’re removing our shoes as we type.