Reflexology, an ancient technique that dates back over 5000 years, can lower a high blood pressure. Reflexology therapy is based on similar principles to acupressure and stimulates specific points on the body to improve circulation and promote well-being.
How does reflexology work?
According to the principles of reflexology, particular areas of the feet – known as reflexes – correspond to other distant parts of the body. These reflexes relate to the way organs such as the heart and kidneys function. Reflexes also relate to states of mind, so emotional problems such as anxiety and stress can respond to treatment, too.
The reflexes are arranged on the soles, upper foot, toes and ankles to form a map of the body. Areas on the right foot correspond to the right side of the body, while those on the left foot relate to the left side.
Here is a reflexology foot diagram. You can download this chart as a PDF via the link at the end of this page.
During a reflexology session, a reflexologist examines and massages all areas of your feet to identify areas that are tender or which feel gritty. These findings are used in a diagnostic way to pinpoint parts of the body that may be functioning sub-optimally – even if you are not aware of any problems at the time.
Specific health problems such as hypertension are then treated by applying pressure and massaging the reflex point(s) associated with the particular condition. This is believed to stimulate nerve endings which pass from the feet to the brain and out to the related organs to improve circulation and relieve symptoms. Full treatment usually lasts 45 to 60 minutes and at the end of each session you will usually feel warm, contented and relaxed.
Reflexology is said to work best for disorders of the internal organs and for stress-related problems such as headache. A survey carried out by the Association of Reflexologists in the UK found that hypertension was one of the conditions most successfully treated by its members.
Reflexology to treat hypertension
To treat hypertension, a reflexologist will concentrate on massaging reflexes related to your heart and chest. These points are found between the base of the toes and the diaphragm line on both feet.
The therapist will start massaging the base of the big toe and work across to the outside edge of the foot. Massaging the larger heart reflex on your left foot is said to strengthen and regulate your heart, while stimulating the diaphragm lines is believed to deepen breathing and bring more oxygen into your body.
Stimulating reflexes relating to the thyroid and parathyroid glands is believed to regulate your heart rate and calcium metabolism, while massaging the kidney areas (located at the top of your arches) helps to flush excess fluid from the body. The spinal reflex that runs down the inside edge of both feet is also massaged to support your nervous system.
Full treatment usually lasts 45 to 60 minutes and at the end of each session you will usually feel warm, contented and relaxed.
The relaxation effect alone is likely to provide benefits if you suffer from hypertension. You may find that, after a session, you have to visit the bathroom as excess fluid is released, too. This diuretic effect of reflexology will also help to reduce your blood pressure.
What is the evidence that reflexology works?
A growing body of evidence supports the use of reflexology to treat high blood pressure and other circulatory conditions. In Korea, for example, nurses have been trained to apply foot reflexology twice a week to patients with essential hypertension. ve patients, twice a week. After six weeks, significant decreases in systolic blood pressure were noted, compared to a similar group of patients who did not receive reflexology, although there was no significant effect on diastolic blood pressure.
Reflexology increases blood flow
Research carried out in Austria compared foot reflexology with sham reflexology in 32 healthy young adults without hypertension.
One group were treated with reflexology that stimulated foot reflexes relating to the right kidney, while another group had sham reflexology in which other areas not related to the kidneys were massaged. The effects on blood flow to the right kidney were recorded using colour Doppler sonography, before, during and after the reflexology.
A significant increase in blood flow within three blood vessels of the right kidney was recorded in those receiving the true reflexology, compared with those receiving the sham reflexology. No differences were seen in treatment outcomes between men and women, or between smokers and non-smokers.
The researchers concluded that organ-associated reflexology can reduce the resistance to blood flow in renal vessels which may contribute to a temporary fall in blood pressure.
Reflexology lowers blood pressure
In a study from Turkey, 17 healthy people plus 20 patients with coronary heart disease, who were scheduled to undergo coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery, received 60 minutes of foot reflexology.
In both groups, foot reflexology produced significant reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
In the healthy control group, average blood pressure was 136/75 mmHg before treatment, 115/67 mmHg when measured 30 minutes after foot reflexology, and 124/67 mmHg when measured 60 minutes after foot reflexology.
In those with coronary heart disease, average blood pressure was 153.5/84.5 mmHg before treatment, 134.5/80.5 mmHg when measured 30 minutes after foot reflexology, and 134/75.5 mmHg when measured 60 minutes after foot reflexology. These reductions were highly significant and were also seen in patients who were taking prescribed blood pressure medicines, including beta-blockers.
The researchers measured several physiological variables and found that the beneficial effects on blood pressure were related to positive changes in control mechanisms involving the autonomic nervous system, vagus nerve and renin-angiotensin hormone responses. They concluded that foot reflexology is a safe treatment that can be used as an effective way to improve outcomes in patients with coronary heart disease.
Reflxology reduces stress
Another study, this time from the UK, looked at the effects of reflexology in reducing anxiety and stress.
Twenty-six healthy volunteers were subjected to experimental stress conditions before and after a 20 minute session which their either received foot reflexology, or a relaxation session in which a therapist just held their feet.
In those who just had their feet held, the relaxation session was associated with a 10% reduction in systolic blood pressure but a 5% increase in diastolic blood pressure during the following period of mental stress.
In those who received foot reflexology, there were significant reductions in systolic blood pressure (a 22% fall) and diastolic blood pressure (a 26% fall) during the following period of mental stress.
This suggests that reflexology can reduce the rise in blood pressure associated with stress.
Due to the small numbers involved, however, these effects were not statistically significant and more research is needed to confirm this.
Self-reflexology may help, too
Two studies involving people with hypertension found that self-administered foot reflexology may have a beneficial effect on lowering blood pressure, although the small size of the trials means that further research is needed to conclusively determine whether or not foot reflexology has any lasting, significant effects.
You can massage reflexes in your foot yourself, for around 10 minutes – either every day or two or three times a week. It’s easily done when you are sitting down watching TV or listening to music.
Sit comfortably and bring your left foot up onto your right thigh.
Using your thumb, gently massage the heart and lung reflexes, which lie between the diaphragm line and the base of your toes, for around one minute.
Next, massage the heart area which lies between the diaphragm line and the base of your big toe. This area is bigger on the left foot than the right, as the left ventricle has thicker walls than the right ventricle. Do this for around one minute.
Then massage across the diaphragm line itself for another minute.
Massage along the spinal reflex for one minute. This area runs along the inner edge of each foot from the top of the big toe to the side of the heel.
Finally, massage inside the arch of your foot, which contains reflexes relating to your left kidney and adrenal gland, for another minute.
Repeat the massage on your right foot.
Download the Foot Reflexology Chart as a pdf here Foot Reflexology Chart
If your blood pressure is raised, self-monitoring is key to maintaining good control.
Click here for advice on choosing a blood pressure monitor to use at home.
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