What Is Reflexology and Does It Work?

Reflexology is a practice based on the premise that areas and organs in the body are linked to reflex areas on the hands and feet.

Reflexology is considered a complementary therapy, meaning that it is meant to be used alongside conventional medical care rather than instead of it. There is no scientific evidence to prove that it can prevent or cure any type of disease, but some studies show it may help relieve certain symptoms, such as pain and anxiety.

Trials on reflexology should be viewed critically, as many are poorly designed. Results from studies have been mixed, but some offer promising results in symptom relief that are worth exploring further.

Read on to learn more about reflexology and ways it may be helpful.


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How Does Reflexology Work?

Reflexology is based on the theory that all areas of the body correspond with and can be mapped onto areas of the hands and feet. Typically, the feet are used in reflexology, but in some circumstances, the hands or ears may be used.

Reflexologists use hand and foot maps that illustrate what points correspond to which areas of the body.

An illustration showing the reflex spots on a right and left foot from top, bottom, and side angles.

Reflexology Association of Canada.

During a reflexology session, pressure and stimulation using the reflexology technique are applied to these points to improve blood and energy circulation, give a sense of relaxation, and maintain homeostasis (bodily systems remaining stable as they adjust to changing conditions).

The exact mechanism of action (how it works) for reflexology has not yet been determined, but there are some proposed theories:

  • Nerve impulse theory: Proposes that stimulation of specific reflex points on the feet enhances nervous system connection to the parts of the body that correspond to those points. It's suggested that benefits from reflexology stem from the involvement of the central and autonomic nervous systems. Reflexology may work by stimulating the release of endorphins (chemicals made by the nervous system to manage pain, reduce stress, and enhance mood).
  • Hemodynamic theory: Proposes that stimulation from reflexology enhances blood flow to the corresponding organ or body area
  • Energy-related theories: This proposes that body parts can communicate using electromagnetic fields, and this communication can become blocked or congested. Reflexology may restore energy flow and open these blockages, possibly by breaking up lactic acid crystals stored in the feet.
  • Fascia involvement: Reflexology may influence changes in the fascia (a thin membrane or fibrous sheath that covers and separates body organs), in turn affecting areas of the body.

None of these theories have been sufficiently supported by quality evidence, and more research is needed.

Because it is non-invasive and low-risk, it may be suggested as a treatment in addition to conventional medical care to see if a person finds it helps them feel better, but it should not be used in place of medical care and conventional treatment.

Does Reflexology Really Work?

Support for reflexology largely comes from anecdotal sources (people say it helped them) and flawed or unreliable studies (e.g., small sample sizes, and a methodology that is not well controlled) Conclusive evidence that reflexology works are lacking.

Still, the fact that many people seem to feel better after reflexology sessions have led to theories about how reflexology may make people feel better, even if reflexology techniques and theories are not backed by evidence. Factors that may influence the effectiveness of reflexology (and the legitimacy of study results) include:

  • Environment/ambiance: Reflexologists often use relaxing music, lighting, and scents during reflexology sessions which could help to facilitate relaxation and stress relief.
  • Support from reflexologist: During the session, especially when lying face up, the person can talk to the reflexologist, share their worries and concerns, work through personal challenges, or gain clarity. This psychological support, especially coupled with a relaxation response, could prompt improvement in health and well-being.
  • Physical touch: Human touch has been shown to work as a tool to bring comfort and promote healing. Reflexology sessions involve touch, such as stroking, massaging, and manipulation of soft tissue.
  • Placebo effect: It's possible that having the expectation of positive outcomes can create positive outcomes through the power of suggestion. This doesn't mean that the positive results aren't real. It means that they may not have occurred specifically due to the reflexology treatment itself (or itself alone).

Whether or not reflexology techniques are directly responsible for results, they may still benefit some people and may be worth a try as long as it doesn't interfere with standard medical care.

Benefits of Reflexology 

While not proven, there is some evidence that reflexology may help with:

As stress and pain are linked to health problems, it's possible that by alleviating these, reflexology could indirectly lead to other health benefits (though not as a treatment or cure for specific illnesses or conditions).

Other benefits of reflexology include:

  • Low risk
  • Can be done alongside other treatments (check with your healthcare provider first)

Risks and Side Effects of Reflexology

Generally, reflexology is thought to have few side effects. Some people may experience effects such as:

If you experience any negative effects, talk to your reflexologist (and/or healthcare provider if it's more than a temporary, minor effect).

Who Should Not Do Reflexology?

There are some situations when reflexology may not be advised. Before trying reflexology, talk to your healthcare provider to ensure it's safe for you. Tell your reflexologist about any medical conditions you have and any treatments (including medication) you are doing.

Reflexology may not be appropriate if some conditions are present, including:

Is Reflexology Safe?

Reflexology is considered safe for most people, but as with any health program, should be run by your healthcare provider before starting sessions.

The biggest safety concern with reflexology is the potential for its use in place of conventional treatments. Reflexology should only be used in addition to conventional medical treatments. It is not considered an effective treatment for conditions on its own. Using it instead of seeking care from a healthcare provider could lead to:

  • Missed/inaccurate diagnosis
  • Ineffective treatment
  • Delayed treatment
  • The condition worsens in the absence of effective treatment

Make Sure You See a Qualified Reflexologist

Make sure to choose a reflexologist who is properly trained and qualified. Ask them where they trained and see if they are registered with any credible associations, such as the Association of Reflexologists.

Look for red flags. A reflexologist should not:

  • Diagnose medical conditions
  • Prescribe medications
  • Treat for specific conditions
  • Claim to cure anything
  • Work against conventional medicine
  • Encourage you to stop taking their prescribed medication or go against your healthcare provider's treatment plans or recommendations

If you notice any red flags or feel uncomfortable for any reason, it's OK to stop the session and/or stop seeing that reflexologist.

What to Expect

Reflexology sessions typically last between 30 to 60 minutes.

At the beginning of the first session, or intake, the reflexologist will:

  • Ask some general questions about your medical history (e.g., health, lifestyle)
  • Explain how reflexology works, what it does not do (such as treat specific illnesses), and what to expect
  • Sign a consent form (not every practice requires this)
  • Give time and space for you to ask questions (if the reflexologist is dismissive of your questions/concerns or not forthcoming with information, consider that a red flag)

You usually lie down or sit in a reclining chair during sessions. You will stay fully clothed, except for your feet, if your feet are being worked on. Reflexology sessions are typically relaxing and soothing, but there may be discomfort when some areas are being worked on. Tell your reflexologist if you are feeling pain or discomfort. It's also okay to stop the session at any time.

During the session, your reflexologist will:

  • Work on your feet, hands, ears, or a combination, depending on your needs, wants, and accessibility
  • (May) wash your feet and soak them in warm water
  • Assess your feet for open wounds, rashes, sores, warts, or bunions, and ask you about any foot or leg pain you may be experiencing (if working on feet)
  • Encourage you to do what feels comfortable (e.g., talk, rest, sleep), and encourage feedback as you go
  • End the session in a calm, peaceful way that may involve stroking the hand or food


Reflexology is a practice that involves stimulating certain areas of the feet and sometimes hands and/or ears. The theory behind this is that areas on the feet and hands correlate with areas and organs of the body.

There is not enough evidence to support reflexology as a treatment or cure for any condition. Some studies show positive health benefits, but most studies on reflexology are poor quality, small, or flawed.

Reflexology may help with stress relief, pain relief, and relaxation.

A Word From Verywell 

Reflexology has not been proven to work, but many people say they feel better after sessions and the risk is low for most people. Never use reflexology as a treatment for a condition, but if you feel it's worth trying in addition to medical care, talk to your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can be treated with reflexology?

    Reflexology is not a treatment or cure for any condition. There is some evidence that it may help with pain relief, stress relief, mood elevation, and relaxation.

  • Does reflexology hurt?

    Reflexology shouldn't hurt, but some people experience discomfort when a sensitive reflex is worked. If discomfort or pain occurs, tell the reflexologist so they can adjust their pressure or technique.

  • Is reflexology scientifically proven to work?

    Reflexology has not been scientifically proven to cure or prevent any type of medical condition or disease. Research trials have shown mixed results, but there are few quality trials on the effectiveness of reflexology.

    While not proven, there is some evidence to suggest that reflexology may help with pain, relaxation, and stress relief.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Hasanpour M, Mohammadi MM, Shareinia H. Effects of reflexology on premenstrual syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BioPsychoSocial Med. 2019;13(1):25. doi:10.1186/s13030-019-0165-0

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By Heather Jones
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability, and feminism.