There’s rarely any justification for extremely painful massage, unless it clearly produces a better result than gentler treatment — which is rarely clear!1 It is possible that a few “brutal” deep tissue massages could do the trick where gentler treatment would fail — but there is no way to know this in advance, and massage is expensive stuff. If you’re going to gamble on a treatment, gamble on cheaper and less painful ones.
Until better evidence is published in peer reviewed journals, he remains skeptical of claims that by massaging or applying pressure to specific points on the hands or feet, a reflexologist can alleviate problems in corresponding organs or other systems throughout the body. He has seen no evidence showing that reflexology is effective for pain or any health problems unrelated to the feet and hands. He urges caution with regard to claims that reflexology can cleanse the body of toxins, increase circulation, promote weight loss, or successfully treat earaches, hemorrhoids, emphysema, heart disease, thyroid disorders or any other health condition.
Massage has been practiced for thousands of years. Today, if you need or want a massage, you can choose from about 80 massage therapy styles with a wide variety of pressures, movements, and techniques. These all involve pressing, rubbing, or manipulating muscles and other soft tissues with hands and fingers. Sometimes, even forearms, elbows, or feet are used.
Many people confuse reflexology with massage, Reiki, or acupuncture, but there are essential differences between these therapies. Massage therapists manipulate larger areas of soft tissue in the body while reflexologists apply pressure to specific points on the feet, hands, and ears. Unlike either massage or reflexology, Reiki does not involve any physical manipulation or pressure, but instead uses light touch to work with the subtle vibrational field thought to surround the body. Finally, while acupuncture and acupressure, like reflexology, use reflex points on the body to influence other parts of the body, the points are not the same and acupuncture uses points over the entire body.
Swedish massage therapy can be helpful with a number of other physical challenges, such as reduction in scar tissue by physically manipulating the fibers of the tissue, allowing the scar tissue to be successfully reabsorbed into the skin. Additionally, it can aid with lymphatic drainage, where the long strokes of the therapist help move fluids successfully out of clogged areas.
Watsu, developed by Harold Dull at Harbin Hot Springs, California, is a type of aquatic bodywork performed in near-body-temperature water, and characterized by continuous support by the practitioner and gentle movement, including rocking, stretching of limbs, and massage. The technique combines hydrotherapy floating and immersion with shiatsu and other massage techniques. Watsu is used as a form of aquatic therapy for deep relaxation and other therapeutic intent. Related forms include WaterDance, Healing Dance, and Jahara technique.
One theory is that muscle knots may be caused by something that goes wrong at the “motor end plate” — where a nerve ending attaches to a muscle cell.9 We don’t know why this happens, or what exactly goes wrong, but there is circumstantial evidence that motor end plates are the “point” in trigger point. That evidence is too complex and controversial to review properly here. It is explored in detail in my book. Some research has suggested that it may actually be possible to physically destroy the motor end plate with strong massage, thereby inactivating the trigger point.10 When it regrows — these are microscopic structures, it doesn’t take them long to heal — the trigger point may be gone.
The recently increased demand for evidence-based practice challenges the researchers to provide a relevant but holistic assessment of reflexology. Despite the recent vast use of reflexology, minimal attention has been given to the ethical issues related to the research on reflexology. In the view of public health and safety, we argue that the research on reflexology should adhere to the same ethical requirements for all clinical research.
Reflexology is a practice in which different amounts of pressure are applied to specific points on the feet or hands. These points are believed to match up with certain other parts of the body. Reflexology is claimed to cause relaxation and healing in those parts of the body, but this has not been proven. In a study funded by the National Cancer Institute, women with advanced breast cancer who received reflexology treatments showed improvement in a few symptoms, such as shortness of breath, but not others, such as nausea or pain. In this study, reflexology was safe even for the most fragile patients.
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Their website seems to conflate reflexology with acupuncture and acupressure. There are five tabs at the top of the home page: (1) Store, which links to a single Amazon.com page selling a reflexology foot massager, (2) Acupressure Points and (3) Reflexology Treatment, both of which have multiple articles on acupuncture and acupressure, (4) Reflexology Machines – foot massagers and acupressure mats, and (5) Courses. Notable by its absence is a tab for scientific studies showing that any of this stuff works.