Reflexology, an ancient technique that dates back over 5000 years, can lower a high blood pressure. The therapy is based on similar principles to acupressure and stimulates specific points on the body to improve circulation and promote well-being.
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.
During a session, a reflexologists examine and massage all areas of your feet to identify areas that are tender or which feel gritty – this is used in an almost 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.
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.
What is the evidence that it works?
Research carried out in Austria, has shown that reflexology to stimulate foot reflexes relating to the right kidney significantly increased blood flow to the right kidney, compared with sham reflexology in which other areas not related to the kidneys were massaged. The effects were recorded using colour Doppler sonography in 32 healthy adults. There was no difference between men and women and no difference between smokers and non-smokers. The results suggest that reflexology can reduce the resistance to blood flow in renal vessels which may contribute to a temporary fall in 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 surgery, received 60 minutes of foot reflexology. In both groups, reflexology produced significant reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
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 or after either a 20 minute reflexology session or a relaxation session in which a therapist just held each participant’s feet. There were significant reductions in systolic blood pressure (a 22% fall) and in diastolic blood pressure (a 26% fall) during mental stress following reflexology compared to the stress testing before the intervention. In contrast, for those who just had their feet held, there was a 10% reduction in systolic blood pressure but a 5% increase during a period of mental stress following the intervention, although due to the small numbers these effects were not statistically significant.
In Korea, nurses were trained on how to apply foot reflexology to hypertensive 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.
Self-reflexology may help, too
Two studies involving people with hypertension found that self-performed 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.
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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