How reflexology can help you restore balance

Reflexology – utilising the healing power of massaging your feet, hands and ears – may help bring you back to equilibrium when you’re feeling out of whack.

Also known as regional therapy and reflex massage therapy, reflexology is an ancient method of healing used by the early Chinese, Egyptians, and North American indigenous tribes.

The practice involves applying pressure to specific points on the feet, hands, or ears.

It is believed these points, known as reflex points or zones, correspond to different organs and systems in the body.

How does reflexology work?

Practitioners, known as reflexologists, use their hands to apply pressure to certain areas of the body in the belief it can calm your central nervous system and promote relaxation.

Reflexology is practised to restore natural balance, improve circulation and blood flow, Bayside Melbourne-based massage and reflexology therapist Kathryn Toomey says. 

“It can help people feel more relaxed, less stressed and lighter,” she explains.

“The idea is that the foot is a physical reflection of a person, starting with the big toe representing the head and so applying pressure in that area can help relieve headaches, while the arch of the foot presents the spine. 

“And you can also use it as a second modality to massage therapy to make the effects of a massage last for longer.”

Some reflexologists say it can also help manage different psychological and emotional conditions.

“Your feet show exactly how you and your body physically and emotionally feel at that moment, and they change every day,” Melbourne-based reflexologist from The Reflexology Studio Zoe Baranowski explains.

“When we’re frustrated about something, our energy stays in our body and reflexology helps shift the energy around so that stuck emotions can get out of our body.”

What is a reflexology chart?

Reflexology chart

Reflexology charts are used to visualise which areas of the feet are linked to the different parts of the body, helping practitioners understand where to apply pressure.

“The great thing about reflexology charts is you don’t need to be a qualified reflexologist to use them as a guide,” Zoe says.

“When somebody says ‘I’ve got a sore arm’, you know what parts of the foot to touch.”

In cases where you’re feeling off-kilter and you’re unsure why, Zoe recommends doing the reverse by playing around with your pressure points to find the problem.

“Touch your feet or your hands, see what parts are sore,” she says.

“And if you get a foot chart or a hand chart, correlate that part of your foot that’s sore with what’s on the chart.”

What can reflexology help with?

While there isn’t a lot of strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of reflexology, some small studies indicate it may assist with:

Weight loss

“We can get you out of fight-or-flight (response) so your hormones will be more balanced, but if you’re coming specifically for weight loss, probably not,” Zoe says.

One recent study, however, found combining reflexology with a diet plan could potentially be effective when it comes to weight loss and reducing your BMI.

Back pain

“(Reflexology) reduces pain, so if you come in with a sore back, you’re going to have less pain at the end of a reflexology session because we’re working with the hormones and nerves that are pain relievers and receptors,” Zoe says.

A 2016 study suggests reflexology could be effectively used by medical teams to help reduce chronic back pain in patients.

Stress and anxiety

Reflexology may also help with improved sleep quality and sense of wellbeing.

“We’re bringing the body out of the fight-or-flight (response) into a state of rest and relaxation, so it works with chronic stress, depression and anxiety,” Zoe says.

“It’s about bringing the body back into a state of balance.”

Menstrual problems

There is some evidence reflexology may help relieve premenstrual symptoms.

“Massaging the pressure point on either side of the ankle, and between the ankle and heel towards the Achilles is a classic spot well documented to reduce menstrual pain and premenstrual tension (PMT),” Kathryn says.


“If you look at the reflexology map, it tells you where the ascending colon is and it starts just below the middle of the foot and away from the direction of the big toe,” Kathryn explains.

“So as a general rule, massaging the lower quarter of the foot around the heel region is a great way to assist constipation as that’s where the bowel area is linked to.”

This is supported by a recent study that found foot reflexology to be effective in relieving constipation in elderly people.

Can reflexology hurt?

“Reflexology can hurt, but only for the short period of time that the reflexologist is putting the deep pressure in, generally it’s a relaxing treatment with moments of discomfort,” Zoe says.

“If it’s hurting, it’s indicating that the body part is out of balance or you have an issue around the body area, emotionally, physically or spiritually.

“Some people feel it as pain or a sharp burning sensation, other people might just feel pressure.

“But every reflexologist works differently and everybody perceives pain differently,” she says.

Are reflexology sandals good for you?

Zoe explains while reflexology footwear is great, it can only address the surface of what you need.

“A reflexologist has intent, experience and expertise to reach and manipulate other parts of the feet as opposed to putting a tiny bit of pressure on one area,” she says.

“Sandals are an addition to your general wellness, but (they’re) not going to be nearly as effective as having a reflexology treatment.”

In 2023 World Reflexology Week is celebrated from September 18-24. 

For more on the healing powers of massage:

Written by Melissa Hong.