Foot Reflexology: Not Just a Foot Massage

Many people believe that a Foot Reflexology session is just a relaxing foot massage.  While Foot Reflexology is indeed relaxing, it has many other benefits.  

There are ten reflex zones on the foot each corresponding to a different body area.  There are additional specific reflex points that correspond to internal organs, glands, and sense organs.  For example, in the center of the pad of the big toe there is a reflex point that corresponds to the pituitary gland; on the ball of the left big toe is a reflex point to the heart, and on the ball of pinky is a reflex zone to the shoulder.  There are over 50 reflex points such as these on the feet.  When these reflexology points are stimulated with specific massage techniques, the body’s natural healing abilities are stimulated.  Pain is reduced; organ function improves, and in some cases, diseases are resolved.  While massage therapists who perform Foot Reflexology are not medical practitioners with the training to either diagnose or treat, the practice of Foot Reflexology over recent decades shows, again and again, the healing potential of this modality.

How does Reflexology work?

Foot Reflexology works on several levels.

Research in the 1890s by Henry Head and Charles Sherrington shows us the neurological relationship between the skin and the internal organs, and that the nervous system as a whole adjusts to stimulus.  By applying pressure to the feet, the calming message to peripheral nerves is carried through the central nervous system signaling the body to relax.  This enhanced relaxation allows increased blood supply to the internal organs and their systems. This relaxation allows, additionally, the body to move naturally toward homeostasis and more optimal functioning.  

The neuromatrix theory of pain helps us to understand how Reflexology reduces pain levels in the body.  According to the neuromatrix theory, pain is a subjective experience created by the brain.  The brain does this in response to not only physical stimuli but also in response to emotional or cognitive factors.  Thus, your moods or stress levels can also affect your experience of pain.  Reflexology may reduce pain by reducing stress and improving mood.

Lastly, Reflexology is recognized as a specific type of massage developed based on Zone Theory.  Zone Theory, developed by Dr. William Fitzgerald in the early 1900s, understands foot reflexologythe body is divided into 10 vertical zones, each zone corresponding to fingers and toes all the way up to the head.  In Reflexology, every organ, gland, or body part that lies within a zone can be accessed via a reflex zone or point on the foot or hand.  For example, if you work on the horizontal reflex zone at the base of the ball of the foot, you are affecting the solar plexus and diaphragm.  These pathways between reflex zones and other parts of the body are thought to be connected via the nervous system, as described above.


Modern reflexology is based on an ancient form of therapy. There is evidence of some form of foot and hand therapy being practiced in Tibet and China as long ago as 4,000 B.C. and also at the same time in Egypt, as depicted in the tomb of Ankhmahor. The North American tribes of Indians are known to have practiced a form of foot therapy for hundreds of years. While there is some confusion about the true origin of this powerful therapy, sufficient to say that it has stood the test of time and has helped thousands of people to better health.

Zone Therapy

Dr. William FitzGerald (1872-1942) is credited with being the father of ‘zone therapy’. He worked in Vienna beginning around 1899. Zone therapy divides the body into ten zones—five on each side of the sagittal plane. The hands/arms and feet/legs were also divided into five zones each. Dr. Edwin Bowers in his book co-authored with Dr. FitzGerald, Zone Therapy in 1917 writes that FitzGerald discovered zone therapy in 1909 but gives no indication where he became acquainted with the theory. From 1915 into the early thirties the subject of zone therapy was controversial but did meet with a certain amount of success with doctors and dentists as a form of pain relief or analgesia.

Reflex Work

Dr. Joe Shelby Riley (1856 -1947), trained by Dr. FitzGerald further developed zone therapy by adding eight horizontal divisions to the zones of the feet and hands. His work is accurately the beginning of reflexology as it is known today—that is, reflexes found on the feet and hands that follow the anatomy of the body. Riley’s work with reflexes and zones also included the hands and ears.


During the 1930’s Eunice D. Ingham (1889-1972) met Riley as early as 1919 worked for Dr. Riley in St. Petersburg, Florida and continued to refine and improve his work. From her first book, Stories the Feet Can Tell (1938) she was encouraged by Riley and others to take her work to the public and non-medical community. Eunice’s major contribution to working with reflexes was that alternating pressure, rather than having a numbing effect, stimulated healing. For forty years she lectured and traveled back and forth across the United States, and is largely responsible for Foot Reflexology as taught today in most massage schools.

Reflexology at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary

At Osmosis, we recognize that Foot Reflexology could increase the healing potential of any massage experience. We offer a 15-minute Reflexology Enhancement that can be booked with any massage modality of any length.  This not only feels good and enhances deep relaxation, it also brings increased blood supply to internal organs, promoting healing and the reduction of pain.  Click here to book a massage with a Reflexology Enhancement.


Raizelah Bayen, Massage Therapist Supervisor and Trainer at Osmosis Day SpaRaizelah Bayen is a California Certified Massage Therapist, currently employed as the Director of Training and Massage Therapist Supervisor at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone, California.  She has been practicing massage for over 25 years, and teaching T’ui Na, Acupressure, Sports and Pregnancy Massage in massage certification programs for 15 years.  Raizelah is an approved CEU Instructor by the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), offering trainings in Freestone, California and on-site training at your massage school or spa.  For more information, connect with Raizelah Bayen on LinkedIn.

Please contact for information on upcoming trainings in T’ui Na, Shiatsu, Thai Massage, Foot Reflexology, and Body Mechanics for Bodyworkers scheduled in Sebastopol, California.  Or book Raizelah for an on-site training in your massage school or spa in T’ui Na, Shiatsu, Thai Massage, Foot Reflexology or Body Mechanics for Bodyworkers.