Scientists use MRI
to validate Reflexology
Functional Magnetic Resonance
Imaging (fMRI) studies are about to change reflexology,
providing illustration of some of reflexology's basic tenets.
In three separate studies, Hong Kong researchers explored with
fMRI what happens in the brain when pressure or technique is
applied to specific reflex areas of the left foot.
Reflexology applied to a specific part of the foot activated
the reflected area. Specifically, technique stimulation
applied to the inner lateral corner of the left great toe
activated the right temporal lobe, the part of the brain
related to the reflex area.
Reflexology technique stimulation of the eye reflex area activated
a region of the brain matching acupupoint stimulation of stroke
patients with vision defects but not the visual part of the brain.
Reflexology pressure work was compared to electro-acupuncture
work. This study is discussed in detail below. The above-mentioned
studies will be detailed in the future.
Their finding: the specific parts of the brain activated by such
work correlates with reflexology's theory and intended use.
The studies were presented at the NeuroImage Meeting, the Annual
Meeting of the Organization of Human Brain Mapping, 2005 and 2006.
The researchers found that the"fMRI is useful to investigate the
central neural pathway of reflexology." The researchers, Annie M.
Tang, Geng Li, Chan C.C., Edward Yang, K.K.K. Wong and R. Li are
with the University of Hong Kong.
Comparison of Foot Reflexology and
The researchers used fMRI to compare what happens in the brain
when pressure is applied to foot reflexology's adrenal gland
reflex area and what happens when electrical stimulation is
applied to acupuncture's K1 point, both located in approximately
the same area of the foot.
Findings: the areas of the brain activated by both "were mostly
localized at insula region. The stimulated reflex zone and
acupoint is the treatment point for psychological anxiety,
inflammation and asthma according to Reflexology and Chinese
medicine. The activation in insula demonstrated that massage
(reflexology) or acupuncture stimuli at the point may probably
regulate emotional and pain effects. Our results are consistent
with the results in psychological asthma. Also, our results
indicate that massage (reflexology) has the same function as
Annie M. Tang, Geng Li, Edward S. Yang, "Comparison of Foot
Reflexology and Electro-Acupuncture: An fMRI study."
The insula is associated with emotions, pain and visceral
functions as well as integration of homeostatic information.
According to Dr. Martin Paulus, a psychiatrist at the University
of California, San Diego, the mind and body are integrated in the
insula. "The insula itself is a sort of receiving zone that reads
the physiological state of the entire body and then generates
subjective feelings that can bring about actions like eating that
keep the body in a state of internal balance."
The fMRI study showed that reflexology stimuli activate other
areas of the brain, one of which receives information about
sensory information such as pressure to the feet. This area is the
somatosensory cortex, the homunculus or the "little man", a
representation of the body projected onto the brain.
Reflexologists view the reflexology chart as a representation of
the body projected onto the foot. The fMRI study thus shows that
stimuli applied to the representation of the body on the foot
communicate with the representation of the body in the brain.
(Kunz and Kunz have long contended that the foot reflexology chart
is one of several "homunculi" of the body. At least five parts of
the brain are organized as a homunulus.)
Implications of MRI study
The implications are many, among them is an understanding of other
recent studies. For one, reflexology work was found to improve
pain tolerance and pain threshold.
1. The fMRI study has found a direct correlation between
pressure to a single reflex area of the foot and one of the
brain's processing areas for pain, the insula.
This same area of the brain helps integrate homeostatic responses
and may help explain results obtained in other research studies
that link reflexology to changes in the body's viscera.
2. The fMRI study found an additional area of activation to
be the left cerebellum ("related to the motor-sensory pathway for
conducting impulses between muscles as well as the sensory
receptors at left great toe to the primary receiving area in
cerebral cortex"). Activation of the cerebellum may demonstrate,
among other things, that the foot has a job to do - locomotion -
and that the reflexologist's work is impacting this job. For the
reflexologist, a frequent client is the foot-sore individual. It's
not unusual for a client to get up after a session and say, "I
feel like I'm walking on pillows." It's not difficult to imagine
that the reflexologist's hands-on work would directly affect the
foot and make it feel better.
Implications of other studies
1. Austrian researchers found improved blood flow to the
kidneys after reflexology techniques were applied to the kidney
reflex area. For example, during the application of reflexology
work to the kidney reflex area of the foot, Doppler sonogram
showed increase in blood flow to the kidney.
Sudmeier, I.,Bodner, G., Egger, I., Mur, E., Ulmer, H. and Herold,
M. (Universitatsklinik fur Innere Medizin, Inssbruk, Austria) "Anderung
der nierendurchblutung durch organassoziierte reflexzontherapie am
fuss gemussen mit farbkodierter doppler-sonograhpie," Forsch
Komplementarmed 1999, Jum;6(3):129-34 (PMID: 14060981, UI:
Additional research demonstrated impact to the functioning of the
kidney when hand reflexology is applied over time (10 minutes,
five days a week for 3 weeks) created a positive change in three
measures of the kidney's functioning (waste product removal, red
blood cell level, immune system). Such a finding is important to
those whose kidneys have failed and who undergo dialysis.
Oh SY, "The Effects of Hand Reflexology on Saeng-Chi and Immunity
in ESRD Patients," Journal Korean Acad Fundamental Nursing 2002
Aug;9(2):213-225. Korean. Seoul Women's College of Nursing, Korea.
2. Austrian researchers found the same results with an
intestine reflex areas and blood flow to the intestines.
3. Further research has demonstrated a change in blood
sugar level (pancreas function) as well as functions of the heart.
Such results support a contention by Kunz and Kunz (American
Reflexologists) that reflexology's stimulation of pressure to the
feet, by definition, communicates with and creates change in the
body's homeostasis. The rationale is that in order to walk the
body must see itself and fuel itself. The fMRI study demonstrates
an actual mechanism with the body to explain such a theory.
Specific reflex areas impact on reflected
parts of the body
It was demonstrated that reflexology technique applied to a reflex
area impacted a specific, reflected part of the body. More than
anything, these studies may affirm for reflexologists the
importance of directing technique application to a specific reflex
area to impact a specific, reflected part of the body. The impact
sought is to improve or affect the function of that body part.
Pregnancy, childbirth and lactation
Reflexologists specializing in pregnancy or birthing, for example,
apply technique to the hypothalamus reflex area with the goal of
influencing the release of oxytocin, manufactured in the
hypothalmus and important to lactation after birth as well as
bonding between mother and child.
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