fMRI Research Foot Reflexology
by Barbara & Kevin Kunz
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) studies provide illustration of some of reflexology’s basic tenets. In three separate studies, Hong Kong researchers explored with fMRI what happens in the brain when pressure or technique is applied to specifc reflex areas of the left foot. Their finding: the specific parts of the brain activated by such work correlates with reflexology’s theory and intended use.
In one study, reflexology applied to a specific part of the foot activated the reflected area. Specifically technique stimulation applied to the inner lateral corner of the left great toe activated the right temporal lobe, the part of the brain related to the reflex area to see if this would activate the part of the brain reflected by this reflex area, the right temporal lobe.
In another study, reflexology technique stimulation of the eye reflex area activated a region of the brain matching acupupoint stimulation of stroke patients with vision defects but not the visual part of the brain.
In a third study, reflexology pressure work was compared to electro-acupuncutre work. This study is discussed in detail in below. The above-mentioned studies will be detailed in the future.
The studies were presented at the NeuroImage Meeting, the Annual Meeting of the Organization of Human Brain Mapping, 2005 and 2006. The researchers found that the “fMRI is a useful to investigate the central neural pathway of reflexology” The researchers, Annie M. Tang, Geng Li, Chan C.C., Edward Yang, K.K.K. Wong and R. Li are with the University of Hong Kong.
During the study “Comparison of Foot Reflexology and Electro-Acupuncture: An fMRI study,” the researchers used fMRI to compare what happens in the brain when pressure is applied to foot reflexology’s adrenal gland reflex area and what happens when electrical stimulation is applied to acupuncture’s K1 point, both located in approximately the same area of the foot. What they found was that the areas of the brain activated by both “were mostly localized at insula region….The stimulated reflex zone and acupoint is the treatment point for psychological anxiety, inflammation and asthma according to Reflexology and Chinese medicine. The activation in insula demonstrated that massage (reflexology) or acupuncture stimuli at the point may probably regulate emotional and pain effects. Our results are consistent with the results in psychological asthma. Also, our results indicate that massage (reflexology) has the same function as acupuncture….” Annie M. Tang, Geng Li, Edward S. Yang, “Comparison of Foot Reflexology and Electro-Acupuncture: An fMRI study,” The Jockey Club MRI Centre, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong 474 TH-PM; Presented at Twelfth Annual Meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping; NeuroImage 31 (2006) 237
The insula is associated with emotions, pain and visceral functions as well as integration of homeostatic information. According to Dr. Martin Paulus, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego, the mind and body are integrated in the insula. ”The insula itself is a sort of receiving zone that reads the physiological state of the entire body and then generates subjective feelings that can bring about actions like eating, that keep the body in a state of internal balance.” (Blakeslee, Sandra, “A Small Part of the Brain, and its Profound Effects, ” New York Times.com February 6, 2007)
The fMRI study showed that reflexology stimuli activates other areas of the brain, one of which receives information about sensory information such as pressure to the feet. This area is the somatosensory cortex, the homunculus or the “little man,” a representation of the body projected onto the brain. Reflexologists view the reflexology chart as a representation of the body projected onto the foot. The fMRI study thus shows that stimuli applied to the representation of the body on the foot communicates with the representation of the body in the brain. (Kunz and Kunz have long contended that the foot reflexology chart is one of several “homunculi” of the body. At least five parts of the brain are organized as a homunulus.)
The implications of the fMRI study are many. Among them is an understanding of other recent studies. For one, reflexology work was found to improve pain tolerance and pain threshold. (Carol Samuel “The effects on reflexology on pain threshold and tolerance in an ice-pain experiment on healthy human subject,” May 13, 2007, International Congress on Complementary Medical Research (Conference))
The fMRI study has found a direct correlation between pressure to a single reflex area of the foot and one of the brain’s processing areas for pain, the insula. This same area of the brain helps integrate homeostatic responses and may help explain results obtained in other research studies that link reflexology to changes in the body’s viscera.
Austrian researchers, for example, found improved blood flow to the kidneys after reflexology technique was applied to the kidney reflex area. In another study, Austrian researchers found the same results with an intestine reflex areas and blood flow to the intestines. Further research has demonstrated a change in blood sugar level (pancreas function) as well as functions of the heart.
Such results support a contention by Barbara and Kevin Kunz that reflexology’s stimulation of pressure to the feet, by definition, communicates with and creates change in the body’s homostasis. The rationale is that in order to walk the body must see itself and fuel itself. The fMRI study demonstrates an actual mechanism with the body to explain such a theory.
Tang Annie M., Li Geng., Chan C.C., Wong K.K.K., Li R. and Edward Yang Brain Activation at Temporal Lobe Induced by Foot Reflexology: an fMRI Study, 11th Annual NeuroImage Meeting. 2005, 1445.(Publication No. :102229) www.humanbrainmapping.org Tang M.Y., Li G., Chan C.C., Wong K.K.K., Li R. and Yang E.S., Vision Related Reflex Zone at the Feet: An fMRI Study, 11th Annual NeuroImage Meeting. 2005, 1431. (Publication No. : 102226)
Annie M. Tang, Geng Li, Edward S. Yang, “Comparison of Foot Reflexology and Electro-Acupuncture: An fMRI study,” The Jockey Club MRI Centre, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong 474 TH-PM; Presented at Twelfth Annual Meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping www.humanbrainmapping.org; NeuroImage 31 (2006) 237