What Is Reflexology?: Everything You Need to Know

BY: Kelly MacDowell |Apr 20, 2016

"Most people who come in for reflexology have just [recently] heard about it," says Colin Costa, a reflexologist at Chicago's award-winning Allyu Spa. "They're curious, and they want to try it out."

Though reflexology may be new to many, it's not exactly a recent invention. The practice first became popular in America in the first half of the 20th Century, while similar treatments may have existed as far back as Ancient Egypt.

But what is reflexology, and how does it work exactly? We talked to Colin about the principles of reflexology and why people might want to try it. (Attention high-heel wearers: this may be for you.)

What is reflexology?

Reflexology is a bodywork technique that uses pressure points in the feet and hands in an effort to stimulate organs and systems throughout the body. Reflexology practitioners claim they can treat a wide range of maladies simply by manipulating these pressure points. The general idea is similar to that of other forms of alternative and Eastern medicine, such as acupuncture: clear blockages in the flow of the body's life force (or Qi) and healing will follow.

How does reflexology work?

There isn't a clear consensus among practitioners about the mechanism behind reflexology. Some emphasize the more mystical side of the practice, focusing on imbalances and blockages in the body's energy field. Others, including Colin, believe the treatment works by sending corrective signals to the nervous system and releasing endorphins.

"Back before we started wearing shoes everywhere, we developed natural stimulus points from the ground [making direct contact] with our feet," Colin says. "By walking and getting that stimuli, we would relieve stress. We don't get that anymore. So the idea of reflexology is going back and mimicking that stimuli to specific points and feeling where that stress sits."

What are some of the benefits of reflexology?

According to the Mayo Clinic, studies by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health suggest reflexology can reduce pain, anxiety, depression, stress, and insomnia. It also delivers many of the benefits of more traditional bodywork. "Reflexology can be like a deep-tissue massage," Colin explains. "You can hit all those reflex points and still make the treatment feel relaxing."

He also recommends the treatment for anyone who wears high heels a lot. "Wearing heels compresses the calf. So as that gets tight, that muscle gets used to being in that position. So even if you're not trying to do traditional reflexology, we can warm up all that tissue and take the pressure off your heel, foot, and calf," he says.

How much does reflexology cost?

Prices are comparable to traditional massage, ranging from $40 to $90 for a 60-minute session.

Where can I find reflexology deals near me?


What is it like to get reflexology?

In many ways, a reflexology appointment is similar to other forms of bodywork. You'll likely spend most of the session lying on a treatment table while your practitioner works on the problem areas you and they have identified.

One difference, however, is that you may not want to drift off the same way you might during a conventional massage. "The only times I run into issues with people not liking their treatment is when they just plop down on the table and go to sleep," Colin says, adding that you should "be honest with your therapist, let them know what your goals and expectations are, and have that conversation."

Plus, if you fall asleep, it eliminates the practitioner's ability to gauge your response to different reflex points.

Is there anyone who shouldn't get reflexology?

Pregnant women should put their reflexology treatments on hold. "There are reflex points that can stimulate uterine contractions," says Colin. "You also don't want to do anything if the foot's already injured or unhappy," so recent foot surgery or plantar fasciitis flares are contraindications. He's also hesitant to work on anyone who isn't a candidate for traditional massage, such as those with blood-pressure issues.

For more information on reflexology, watch this video:


deep tissue massage The 11 Types of Massage: A Complete Guide

Learn the differences between Swedish, deep-tissue, and more and find out which one is right for you.
woman receiving massage The Benefits of Massage

Discover how massage can improve your health and learn to get the most out of your next session.
Woman receiving shiatsu massage Shiatsu Massage Explained

Get the lowdown on the holistic body therapy that aims to energize the qi and relax the body.
Hot Stone Massage What Is a Hot-Stone Massage?

How the specialty treatment melts away your stress, one rock at a time.
Swedish Massage What Is Swedish Massage?

Understanding the Western world's gentlest, most popular massage form.