EEG and ECG Research of Reflexology
by Barbara & Kevin Kunz
Cutting edge science has come to reflexology research and the impact of “reflexological stimulation” on the body has been shown. Singaporean researchers have demonstrated in two studies that reflexological stimulation causes physical relaxation and in one study that it impacts heart function. The studies use “chaos theory” to quantify results and create a clearer picture of the mechanism of action at work in reflexology.
Researchers for the three studies are at the Department of Electronics and Computer Engineering at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore with S. S. Iyengar from the Department of Computer Science at Louisiana State University. Our thanks to researcher U.Rajendra Acharya for providing copies of the studies.
Reflexological stimulation was measured by electroencephalograph (EEG) in two studies and electrocardiograph (ECG) in the other. (The EEG measures brain activity and the ECG measures heart activity.) In each study, the data was quantified using cutting edge, complex computer analysis to create a broader picture of how the body works during reflexological stimulation. During a typical ECG assessment, the activity of the heart is plotted over a period of time producing a “linear” wave-like pattern. A heart abnormality experienced by an individual, however, may not take place during that ECG test. Quantifying “nonlinear” analysis of the ECG allows more complex data from the ECG to be assessed. With the use of a computer’s brain power to correlate such information, the application of nonlinear quantification techniques allows assessment of potentially useful information missed during a “linear” measurement. As an example, use of such assessment “has been used in medicine to detect some cardiac arrhythmia such as ventricular fibrillation.”
Such assessment allows a breakthrough in measuring the effects of reflexology. As noted by researchers testing with an EEG, “In this work nonlinear techniques have been used to assess the complexity of EEG with and without reflexological stimulation. We prefer the nonlinear approach, as we believe that the effects (of reflexological stimulation) are taking place in a subtle way, since there is no direct correlation between reflexological points and modern neuroanatomy.” (N. Kannathal, Joseph K. Paul, C. M. Lim and K. P. Chua, “Effect of Reflexology on EEG – A Nonlinear Approach,” The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, Vol. 32, No. 4, 641-650, 2004: PMID: 15481653)
- In one study of eight individuals, an EEG was taken during a normal resting condition and then under reflexological stimulation of the brain reflex area of the hand, the upper one-third of the thumb. Specifically, “we conclude that reflexological stimulation, from the signals and systems point of view bring the brain-mind mechanism to a lower dimensional chaos indicating a state of ‘order out of disorder.’… “We expected this, as reflexology claims to de-stress and bring relaxation to the brain.” (N. Kannathal, Joseph K. Paul, C. M. Lim and K. P. Chua, “Effect of Reflexology on EEG – A Nonlinear Approach,” The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, Vol. 32, No. 4, 641- 650, 2004)
- In one study the EEG’s of 30 subjects were measured (1) in a resting state, (2) with subject listening to classical music followed by rock music and (3) “with subjects under foot reflexologic stimulation.” Results “suggests that when the subjects are under sound (music) or reflexologic stimuli, the number of parallel functional processes active in the brain is less and the brain goes to a more relaxed state. This gives rise to the increase in alpha frequencies in the brain waves.” (Kannathal Natarjan, Rajendra Acharya U, Fadhilah Alias, Thelma Tiboleng and Sadasivan K. Puthusserypady, “Nonlinear analysis of EEG signals at different mental states,” BioMedical Engineering OnLine, 3:7, 16 March 2004: PMID: 15023233)
- In one study, an electric foot roller was utilized to provide both “reflexologic stimulation” as well as to remove the human element from the application of the stimulation. Heart rate variability (HRV) was measured by electrocardiogram. “HRV is a non-invasive measurement of cardiovascular autonomic regulation. Specifically, it is a measurement of the interaction between sympathetic and parasympathetic activity in autonomic functioning.” “Recently, new dynamic methods of HRV quantification have been used to uncover nonlinear fluctuation in heart rate that are not otherwise apparent.” The researchers speculate that improved circulation of blood from feet to heart creates a situation where “there will be more variation in the heart rate and become more chaotic.”
The ECG of twenty individuals was taken for twenty minutes in a relaxed sitting position and then for twenty minutes while being “given reflexological stimulation just below the toes of both feet by a mechanical reflexological device (Massage-scroller type).” The effectiveness of reflexology stimulation on the heart rate variability (HRV) signal was measured by three means: correlation dimension analysis (CD), entropy and Poincare plot geometry (SD2 (m s).“Reflexology being a healing work working on the subtle planes of the human body, we are using subtle tools for investigating the same.”
Results: The three parameters of cardiac function were compared and in “most of the cases under study due to the effect of reflexological stimulation have changed significantly.”
Variation of non-linear parameters with and without reflexology CD
Without reflexology: 4.225 + 0.28
With reflexology: 4.29 + 0.24
0.491 + 0.07 0.54 + 0.05
SD2 (m s)
79.32 + 32.74 66.37 + 37.89
“Hence, reflexological stimulation could increase the complexity of HRV (heart rate variability) signal which is a better state. Hence, the HRV becomes more chaotic due to reflexological stimulation.” Measurement by ECG showed a moderate improvement of cardiac function of the heart’s activity. (Paul Joseph, U. Rajendra Acharya, Chua, Kok Poo, Johnny Chee, Lim Choo, S. S. Iyengar, Hock Wei, “Effect of reflexological stimulation on heart rate variability,” Science Direct, 4 February 2004)
Dr. Acharya notes that another study testing HRV and reflexologic stimulation by electric foot roller will take place in January 2006.
(Barbara & Kevin Kunz, “Brave new world for reflexology research,” Reflexions, Sept. 2005
The EEG (electroencephalogram) measures electrical activity of the brain. When we’re awake and active, the brain wave pattern created by electrical activity is distinctively different from when we’re relaxed or sleeping. In five different studies, EEG (brain waves) measurements were tracked as reflexology work was applied. In three studies, reflexology work was applied to the foot as a whole (64) (66)• (137) and, in two, technique was applied to the part of the hand reflecting the brain, the upper one-third of the thumb (65)• (70). All found that reflexology work created brain waves associated with relaxation, alpha and theta brain waves. One study found that when foot reflexology work began, significant increases were seen immediately in the alpha and theta waves. (64) (Kunz & Kunz, Evidence-Based Reflexology for Researchers and Health Professionals, RRP Press, 2008)