My personal definition of reflexology is a technique of systematically applying manual pressure to the foot (or hand), divided into five zones so that every part of the foot receives attention. This technique promotes relaxation, lowers the client’s stress level, and according to some studies provides at least temporary reduction of chronic pain.
That’s my personal definition, not how a dictionary, textbook or reflexologist would define it. According to The Reflexology Association of Canada, reflexology is:
"A natural healing art based on the principle that there are reflexes in the feet, hands and ears and their referral areas within zone related areas, which correspond to every part, gland and organ of the body. Through application of pressure on these reflexes without the use of tools, crèmes or lotions, the feet being the primary area of application, reflexology relieves tension, improves circulation and helps promote the natural function of the related areas of the body."
Healers have been using reflexology to diagnose and treat ailments for thousands of years. Many US practitioners rely on charts that Eunice Ingham, a nurse and physiotherapist, developed in the 1930s and ’40s to identify which areas of the foot reflect which body regions. Some reflexologists use other maps or charts, so different areas of the foot reflect the same organs to different practitioners.
As with many traditional healing systems, researchers have shown little interest in the system, neither proving nor disproving its claims. Although I know people who sincerely believe that reflexology can be used to treat an assortment of health conditions, I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable making such claims to my clients. To me, reflexology is an extended foot massage to relax, relieve both stress and foot aches, and maybe distract from or reduce other pain. That’s enough.