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By Steven Novella, MD

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Reflexology (a manipulative and body-based practice) is a variant of massage therapy that relies on manual pressure applied to specific areas of the foot; these areas are believed to correspond to different organs or body systems via meridians. Stimulation of these areas is believed to eliminate the blockage of energy responsible for pain or disease in the corresponding body part.

Reflexology is considered a homunculus-based therapy because it presumes that the entire body is represented on the bottom of the feet. No homunculus-based therapy, including reflexology, has any basis in science. In most clinical studies of reflexology, methodology has been poor, and findings tend to be nonspecific effects on subjective symptoms (eg, causing relaxation, indistinguishable from that caused by massage). A systematic review1 of randomized clinical trials concluded that the best available clinical evidence does not support the efficacy of reflexology as treatment for any indication; the review also noted that methodology in studies of reflexology is often poor.

  • 1 Ernst E, Posadzki P, Lee MS: Reflexology: an update of a systematic review of randomised clinical trials. Maturitas 68(2):116–20, 2011.

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