This question is often asked!
Reflexology uses body maps that are on the feet, hands and ears. Massage does not. Massage is all about working the muscles, tendons and fascia. In reflexology, the sensitive areas on the feet and hands indicate there is either something out of balance in the body map area of the body or something in the foot itself or something along the meridian. The sensitive areas are areas that the practitioner will work more or longer on, say up to five minutes on a sensitive place. This is to have a better response for the client. This may be similar to massage, but the massage therapist will keep in mind the tendons and massaging to the desired end result of releasing the muscles and easing the pain. Where as the reflexologist will be focusing on the reflex points or maps and how the body works and how specific conditions or illnesses work.
The benefits of reflexology are improved circulation, relaxation or stress reduction and it helps to balance or improve function of the internal organs and glands naturally. Some studies have shown it to reduce pain such as back pain, PMS symptoms, diabetes and more. Many people find it even more relaxing than a full body massage, perhaps because they don’t have to take off their clothes, and because the work is being done far away from the head or because there are more nerve endings in the feet and hands and face than other parts of the body. There is something about the finger and thumb walking technique that is deeply relaxing in a way massage is not. It is hard to describe. The thumb or finger inches along the zones or reflex points, working at a pressure level that the client finds good…like it is “doing something” but not painful. The pressure should be somewhere “between the devil and the deep blue sea.” So, if you are feeling like your reflexology practitioner is not going deep enough or is going too deep, please speak up so you will have the best results. Sometimes the results are immediate and dramatic, and sometimes the results take 3 or more sessions. Take into account the condition you have. For instance, it will take much longer to bring the body into balance if you have a chronic, long term, condition like arthritis. No reflexologist can make claims, but we can tell clients what research there is and how to access it themselves.
Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever gotten something different than you were looking for? Sometimes new reflexology clients come in to my office and tell a story of going to a spa and asking for reflexology and getting a foot massage instead. This is unfortunate for them, because they were looking for something different. I am sure the foot massage was lovely, but it just doesn’t have the same response as reflexology. Massage reduces muscle tension, is relaxing, and improves circulation. Reflexology is more internally based. Many clients say it feels like I am working on them from inside them. It is also really relaxing, improves circulation and helps you normalize the body.
How to tell if the spa or massage therapist is a certified reflexologist: Ask questions. Ask if they are certified in reflexology and how many hours of training they had for their basic training. In the USA, they should have had at least 200-250 hours of training or be certified by the American Reflexology certification Board. Training is different in other parts of the world. There are many different types of reflexology as well. Some are a more gentle approach such as Gentle Touch Reflexology, some are more intense such as the Father Josef method. Some are more relaxation based and energy based, and some are more clinically based.
I never refer to reflexology as foot massage because massage is geared toward soft tissue and relaxation of the muscles and reflexology is based on working the reflex maps on the feet, hands, ears and face and with the nervous system. In my humble opinion, it becomes confusing for my clients if I refer to reflexology as foot massage. Reflexology may help with some foot conditions, but the reflexology goal is to relax the body, improve circulation, and help the body normalize itself naturally, allowing the body to heal itself internally. It is working to balance all body systems, improving circulation through stimulation of the nervous system. So, if a client wanted to work internally on a health condition that reflexology research has shown improvement with, or I know of clients who are helped by reflexology for this condition, I would suggest reflexology, as opposed to massage, with the disclaimer that the reflexology treatment is not to replace medical treatment and that everyone responds differently and we would just have to see how their body responded to reflexology. We are not doctors and don’t diagnose. I hope this article helped you understand the difference between reflexology and massage and will help you make decisions on what modality would be best for you at this time.
Best wishes, Steve