Western Medicine and Reflexology

The relief of stress and tension and aiding relaxation are the main undisputed benefits of Reflexology.
However, advocates of Reflexology make a range of nebulous claims about the of this therapy, including (but not limited to) the following:

    Assists in the elimination of toxins.
    Delivers pro-active maintenance and holistic or entire body well-being.
    Improves and restores the balance and function of various organs in the body.
    Improves blood circulation.
    Improves lymphatic drainage.
    Promotes general revitalization.
    Stimulates the body’s natural healing mechanisms and strengthens the immune system to normalize and heal the body.

Such nebulous claims are not only hard to pin down and define (because they are described in such vague and woolly terms), but they are even harder to test and prove. For example, how do you prove that some therapy delivers “pro-active maintenance” or promotes “holistic or entire body well-being” ?

Practitioners of Reflexology also claim:

This gentle therapy encourages the body to heal itself, often counteracting a lifetime of misuse.

The “counteracting a lifetime of misuse” part is a particularly bold and totally unproven claim.

Finally, practitioners of Reflexology also claim:
Extensive research on Reflexology has validated the effectiveness of Reflexology.

However, such claims are very much in dispute. Before something can de deemed to be validated or proven in science:

    Proper experiments and trials under very strict conditions need to be conducted and documented.
    Then the experiments need to be re-run to allow the results to be checked and re-checked.

    Then results of these experiments and trials need to be checked and tested by similar experiments and trials elsewhere.

    And, finally, the results of all of these experiments and trials then need to be checked and verified by stringent review by suitably qualified and objective people.

When all of these tests have been passed, then something can claim to have been verified. Unfortunately, such verification procedures have not been conducted in the case of Reflexology and many other alternative and complementary medicines.

Instead, supporters and practitioners of alternative and complementary medicines, such as Reflexology, tend to rely on anecdotal evidence from people, such as “I was suffering from X, Y, and Z before my Reflexology treatment, but now I am better”. At the end of a period of time, the practitioners declare that they have cured or helped X number of people, and that therefore the therapy works and has been verified.

Unfortunately, such a process does not come close to verifying or proving that a therapy is effective.
As a result, people should be very careful before relying any Reflexology treatment, particularly when potentially serious medical conditions are involved.
Clearly, further research and testing of Reflexology is required.

However, the lack of scientific evidence to support Reflexology is not necessarily because of a lack of desire by advocates to subject Reflexology to stringent testing. Some scientists have attempted to test the effectiveness of Reflexology, but there are serious research issues associated with such testing, including (but not limited to):

    Ethics: testing the healing potential of Reflexology on sick people could deprive them of standard medical care, which may result in them becoming more ill and lead to legal action and lawsuits.

    Privacy: patients are not always willing to reveal information about their health problems.

    Subliminal Cuing: people can sometimes be inadvertently led by others into agreeing with a particular result or conclusion.

    Un-testable Hypothesis:

    Current scientific research methods cannot confirm or otherwise the existence of life force energy, also called “Chi” or “Qi”, in the body.

    It is very difficult, or even impossible, to tests for personal feelings, emotions, pain, and overall sense of well being.

    A “No-Fail” System: If a Reflexologist finds something at an alleged reflex point then this is deemed to be “proof” that Reflexology is valid. However, if nothing is found at a reflex point, then Reflexology is still deemed to be valid because Reflexologist claim that it can only detect imbalances in the body’s energy, which may or may not correspond to physical conditions or illness.

All of these issues make it extremely difficult (at best) to subject Reflexology to rigorous scientific testing.