How it Works


How does reflexology work?

(From The Complete Guide to Foot Reflexology (Third Edition) by Barbara and Kevin Kunz)

It is a basic tenet of reflexology that the application of pressure to the feet has an effect on the whole body.  Is there a physiological basis for such a belief? There is and it exists within the nervous system. The physiological model presented here is based on the conditioning of reflexes.

Fight or flight

The feet are a sensory organ with a role in one of life’s basic function: locomotion. The ability to move about is crucial to survival, to gathering food and escaping from danger. Pressure sensors in the feet are a part of the body’s reflexive network that makes possible a fight or flight response. In case of danger, the hands reach for a weapon, the feet prepare to fight or flee and the internal organs provide adrenalin, oxygen ant the glucose to fuel the effort. On a more mundane level, this same mechanism propels us through the day, taking us to work and moving us about our activities.

Feedback to meet demands of locomotion

Locomotion is learned in infancy, but the learning never actually stops. We constantly receive feedback from the environment about where we are and what we are doing. The perception of pressure by the foot provides feedback about what is underfoot. The demands of varying terrain call for the ability to ford a stream or stroll down a sidewalk. Such demands create a need for a response appropriate to the occasion.

Feed forward instructions to meet the occasion

Every day is not a new day for the foot or any other sensory organ. Using information gathered over a lifetime, instructions for sensory organs are preprogrammed in anticipation of events to come. The responses to our environment are preset programs of muscular tension fed forward to appropriate body parts from the brain.  In other words, to continually respond to our changing environment, we need to receive feedback from our senses and to respond with “feed forward” instructions from our brain.

Feed back / feed forward loop connects feet to internal organs

It is this feed back / feed forward loop for sensory organs that makes possible a reflexology influence on the whole body. At the same time that a sensory organ is sent instrucitons from the brain, the internal organs are also receiving instructions. These instructions are about the levels of oxygen and fuel necessary to make movement possible. Although many parts of the brain are involved in this process, there is one final common pathway in the brain stem that sends instructions to both the feet and the internal organs. The walking mechanism and the feet are, thus inextricably linked to the internal organs.

The reflexology chart represents a map of the body as fed forward by the brain indicating the preprogrammed ability of each part of the body to respond.

Reflexive response to demands of locomotion

The demands of walking call for an automatic, unconscious response to the ground underfoot. Changes in terrain or speed of movement call for changes within the reflexive response by the foot and internal organs that fuel movement. For example, walking uphill calls for more energy than walking on a flat surface. Jogging calls for still more energy to be expended.

How reflexology works

Any pressure perceived by the foot is a stimulus to which the entire body responds. The pressure techniques of reflexology create such change.