What Makes the Big Difference in Reflexology Treatments?

Presentation to the Reflexology Association of Australia Conference – Adelaide October 2006

By Dorthe Krogsgaard and Peter Lund Frandsen, Denmark

Let us take a step behind the scene of the different reflexology systems and explore how the body interprets and work with reflexology’s signals.
We will start out by looking at new exciting advances that may help us understanding the scientific basis of our therapy. Interestingly this new knowledge also points at the importance of focus and intention and development of your intuitive skills. We will then carry the discussion back down to earth in demonstrating how you may balance intuition and precise knowledge in practise, using treatment of the sciatic nerve as our example.
After this lecture we hope to be able to leave you with new inspiration for your work and new thoughts on how reflexology works!

We are energy beings
Ours, is an exciting time where science is finally beginning to realise, that human beings function in many more way, than can be described by classical chemistry and biochemistry.
New knowledge has arrived from fields such as basic physics, biophysics, solid state engineering, psychology, computer science, nano-biotechnology, cybernetics, etc. And when these new findings are being compared and combined across traditional professional disciplines, a new image of man is beginning to emerge. It now makes a lot of sense to describe a human being as an intensely complicated web work of interacting wave patterns of energy. Other terms used to express the same idea is The Living Matrix or The Human Biofield.
That biological beings are also “energy beings” is a revolutionary idea to many conventional scientists, especially within medicine, but for most complementary and alternative therapists it is probably common sense. And certainly this viewpoint is by no means a new discovery… look for example at the way the prophet Ratnasara of ancient Tibet pictured the energy pathways in and around the body.

Fig. 1 Tibetan prophet Ratnasara

We don’t know how long it took the Tibetans to reach this insight, maybe thousands of years of meditation. But we do know, that it has taken western civilisations thousands of years and the invention of sophisticated technology and machinery to reach the same conclusion!

So we are energy, but what is all this energy doing? Could it be that communication is an important keyword here? Energy is never static, it always moves and changes from one form into another, and in so doing it passes on information. Communication is taking place.

What is going on when you do reflexology? How is the body responding?
An exchange of information is taking place, the body is responding to the impulses from the therapist and the therapist adjusts to the feedback from the client. There is a constant change between sending and receiving. And when information is exchanged there is always an exchange of energy. Reflexology is an energy medicine!

Let us look at some of the communication systems in the body, some of which are also among the new exciting findings we mentioned in the beginning.
Well known information systems in the body are of course the nervous and hormone systems. In these systems the cells use chemical transmitter substances to convey information. But if we go to the bottom of natural sciences, then chemistry also functions in the realm of energy. A chemical reaction takes place because of energetic interactions at the atomic level.
At a different level of vibration it has been shown that living cells emit light in the visual spectrum. The so called bio-photons were discovered in the 1970’s by German biophysicist Fritz-Albert Popp.
Another recent discovery was done in 2002 at University of California in Los Angeles, when Professor James Gimzewski and Andrew Pelling at the UCLA Department of Chemistry found that living cells also oscillates within the audible range. Cells sing!

Summarizing many of the newer developments, it turns out that the best way to view the human body is a giant interconnected web work of energy on all levels of vibration, with the full range of imaginable frequencies.
We are vibrating, shining, noisy bundles of energy!

Moving the body – mechanical energy
We will try to illustrate some of these points by taking a closer look at mechanical energy in the body. It could be in the form of sound waves being picked up and transported by living tissue or it could be the stimulation from the fingers of a reflexology therapist inducing similar mechanical wave patterns in a client’s body.
First we need to examine how the body reacts to mechanical stimuli.
From the early days of studying human anatomy the focus has been on describing every little part in great detail, for example the external base of the cranium is described using more than 35 named structures (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 External base of the cranium
(Adapted from Andreasen: De indre organer, Munksgaard 1978)


Unfortunately in this detailed process a holistic view of anatomy has been more or less lost. A lot of knowledge exists on the function of every little part, but only little attention has been paid to how these parts work together as a system.
Furthermore, when studying anatomy, in order to view the individual muscles, tendons, bones, etc. an important substance has been removed, namely connective tissue or fascia. This tissue has been cut and scraped away during dissection in order to get a nice clean view of the muscles. In so doing an important point is missing, because connective tissue does exactly what its name implies; it connects things. Bands, straps, planes and sheets of connective tissue and fascia connect muscles and bones into one functional whole.
In this way the body can be viewed as a so called tensegrity structure, a concept first described by American architect Richard Buckminster Fuller in the 1950’s.

Fig. 3 R. Buckminster Fuller with a tensegrity model
(© Buckminster Fuller Institute )

Fig. 4 A rabbit shown as a tensegrity structure with straight lines representing muscles and tendons

An important property of such a model is its ability to transport mechanical energy. If you push one part of the model, the whole will react and adjust to the impact. If there is a blockage, with some of the parts not moving properly, the whole will be affected, but applying the proper impulse the blockage may start to change and eventually dissolve.
We suggest that this concept can be directly transferred as one of many processes that take place when exerting reflexology.

A Modern View of the Cell
The tensegrity concept is valid not only on the macroscopic scale, it also functions on the cellular level.
Until recently biologists have envisioned the cell as a membrane bound bag containing a soup of chemical substances. Biochemical reactions, which have been studied in great detail, were believed to take place in this cytoplasmic solution, where enzymes, proteins and other molecules were floating freely around in a random fashion (Fig. 5).
During the past 20 years a new view of the cell has emerged. We now know, that cells are filled with fibers, tubes, and filaments forming a so called cyto-skeleton or cytoplasmic matrix. Furthermore it has been shown, that special “linking” molecules extend from the inside of the cell, through the cell membrane to communicate with the connective tissue outside the cell. These linking molecules or “integrins” also extend inward to connect to the nucleus of the cell (Fig. 6).

Fig. 5 Classical view of a cell

Fig. 6 Contemporary view of a cell

(Rreproduced from Oschman, James L: Energy Medicine, 2000, with kind permission from Elsevier)


These discoveries have a profound impact on the concept of living tissue. The boundaries between cells, cell nuclei and extracellular space are not nearly as defined as we may think. Rather than perceiving tissue as a collection of individual cells held together by connective tissue, we should think of tissue as a continuous web-work embracing the entire organism. Scientists have named this web-work The Living Matrix.
Again turning back to reflexology, we now know, that when we as reflexologists touch the feet of a client, the waves of mechanical transformation are carried into the continuously interconnected web of cells being in mechanical contact with all other cells of the body and even into the nuclei of the cells.

Tuning in
Biological tissue being a rhythmic pattern of energy waves it acts as both a transmitter and a receiver of these same energies. But in order to communicate with someone else there must be resonance, which means a coordination of frequency and power. It has been shown that biological tissue reacts to even minute magnetic fields, but only if the stimulus falls within a well-defined ”window” of frequency and intensity. Exactly which combination of frequency and intensity is right will vary from time to time and form person to person.

Fig. 7 Within a "window" of the right frequency/intensity combination a large effect is obtained
(© Touchpoint)

This principle can be directly applied in reflexology. Therefore the preparation of a new session may be the most crucial part of the treatment. This is the time to concentrate or ”tune in” on the client in order to find the ”window” or be ”invited inside”.
That the energy field is highly influenced by our thoughts and concentration has been scientifically validated by many researchers. One example is a study of the magnetic field strength emanating from the hands of a trained Therapeutic Touch practitioner, showing a 1000 fold increase when entering into the focused state of healing which is part of the method.

We find that the therapeutic outcome is greatly enhanced when we inform the clients by teaching them about ways of viewing themselves as energetic beings, and include them in the practical work by asking them to focus their attention as well as intention on the client-therapist interplay and allow themselves to feel their energy fields both inside and around the physical body.
Traditionally, reflexologists are excellent crafts(wo)men, but maybe it is time to consider uniting the craft with new knowledge on energy fields.

Balancing intuition and knowledge
In our experience the best therapeutic results can be obtained when you work with a sound balance between intuition and knowledge. It takes well developed intuitive skills to focus attention and intent, to tune-in on the client, but if this is combined with specific knowledge and precise treatment, chances are good that the client will respond well to the therapy.

To balance off the discussion above with some goal directed precise therapy, we would like to show you how we work with the nervous system, and to make it even more detailed we will focus on the Sciatic Nerve.

Reflexology’s nerve
The sciatic nerve is interesting, of course, because so many people suffer from sciatic pains. But for reflexologists the nerve is of particular interest, because this is the very nerve conducting all touch and pain sensations from the feet.
Each foot contains 75,000 free nerve endings registering everything we do as reflexologists! That incredible amount of information is relayed to the central nervous system via the sciatic nerve.
Therefore, it makes sense assuming that a proper function of the sciatic nerve is necessary for a good effect of reflexology.

The Sciatic Nerve
Latin name: Nervus Ischiadicus
Origin: L4 - S3 (sacral plexus)
Course: Through the pelvis into the gluteal region profound for the greatest gluteal muscle and distal for the piriform. Continues down the back of the leg where it splits into two branches, the peroneal and tibial nerves.
Motor innervation: Hamstrings and complete lower leg and foot.
Sensory innervation: Lower leg and foot.

Sciatica is pain radiating from the buttocks down into the leg. Somewhere along its course the sciatic nerve is entrapped, causing irritation or inflammation and thereby pain.

Root pressure
Slightly simplified, one can distinguish between two main causes of sciatic pains: Entrapment of the root and muscle tensions in the pelvic or gluteal regions.
Root pressure involves the spinal nerves from L4-S3. They may be compromised by a slipped or herniated intervertebral disc, which is most commonly seen in the 30-50 age group.
Entrapment of the nerve roots may also be due to arthrotic narrowing of the spinal canal itself (spinal stenosis). This is more often the case with the elderly.

The Piriform muscle
A more common cause for sciatica is muscle tensions in the buttocks. The sciatic nerve leaves the pelvis through an opening (the infrapiriform foramen) where it shares the limited amount of space with several muscles, nerves and vessels (Fig. 8). The nerve has a special relation to the piriform muscle, in some persons in actually passes right through the muscle. The piriform muscle originates on the ventral surface (inside) of the sacrum at the level of S2-S4 and attaches to the femur (greater trochanter). Tensions in this muscle can therefore very easily compress the sciatic nerve (piriformis syndrome) and cause pain. Luckily this condition is relatively easy to assess and treat.

Fig. 8 The sciatic nerve in the gluteal region

Foot reflex for the piriform muscle
The reflex is treated thoroughly with slow, deep movements. It is a good idea to pay extra attention to the origin (sacrum) and attachment (greater trochanter). See Fig. 9.

Fig. 9 Reflex for the piriform muscle
(© Touchpoint, Denmark)

Nerve reflex point for the sciatic nerve
This point has a well defined location on the upper edge of the heel bone (figure ww). It should be treated using nerve reflexology technique, which is an accurate static pressure on the periost of the bone until pain in the point has vanished (max.15 seconds).

Fig. 10 Nerve reflex point for the sciatic nerve
(By kind permission from Nico Pauly, belgium)


What Makes the Big Difference in Reflexology Treatments?
Not two reflexologists work in exactly the same way. We believe it is important to respect ones own forces. Some have excellent intuitive skills, others may have an extraordinary ability to visualise the parts of the body she is working with. For some the ability to concentrate and go into a “healing state” has high priority, whereas others have a high knowledge of anatomy, physiology, causal factors, etc, and are able to convey this to their clients.
Whichever your strong features may be, we think you should focus on these as a solid base for all aspects of your work.

As reflexologists we can benefit from the new fields of research, the growing new knowledge about energy and the way the body maintains homeostasis.
Ways of doing this include visualising the feet and the body, the reflex systems and the whole person, as a vibrating pattern of energy. To be aware of the multitude of communication systems at work. To concentrate our attention and intention on finding “the window” in order to “be invited inside”. To blend in with the biofield of the client, to offer impulses without a predefined outcome, and let the client’s inner doctor do the work.

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