According to reflexology practitioners, pressing on certain areas of the foot affects corresponding internal organs. (Photo: Flickr/Feel my feet - Day 16)
A New York woman is suing Kushyfoot hosiery company, alleging that the “zigzag” soles of their stockings and socks fail to live up to the marketing claims of improved health and well-being. The Kushyfoot massaging soles were supposedly designed by reflexology experts, according to the company website, and are said to deliver various health benefits by targeting different points on the foot.
The lawsuit includes materials from the Kushyfoot website’s section on the science of reflexology. The socks theoretically press on reflexology points on the bottom of the foot, which practitioners believe are connected to the health of different internal organs. For example, an illustration highlights the arch of the foot and says, “By providing support in the heart of your foot, Kushyfoot helps support a healthy heart too.”
“Reflexology is based on the ancient healing principle that everything is connected,” the website states. “By creating socks, hose, and sandals that integrate a massaging cushion designed by reflexology experts, Kushyfoot helps relieve tension and discomfort in achy feet — and stress and fatigue throughout the entire body!”
But is there any scientific basis to the claims? “The main benefit of reflexology is for the reflexologist or the manufacturer of ‘reflexology socks,’ who take money from gullible patients,” says Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD, a researcher at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom who has published reviews of reflexology research. “A foot massage is agreeable and relaxing,” he tells Yahoo Health. “These non-specific effects have, however, little to do with reflexology as advocated by therapists.”
Recently, scientists scoured the medical literature for studies that look at objective physiological benefits of reflexology. The experts identified 17 studies, which revealed that the treatment can lead to significant changes in blood pressure, stress hormones, and various measures of heart function. Only three studies, however, showed any significant difference between the reflexology group and the control group. The review was published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
“There are a lot of claims for the benefits of reflexology. Unfortunately, most of these claims are anecdotal, as they are not supported by controlled studies,” says Ivor Ebenezer, PhD, a researcher at the University of Portsmouth in the UK.
Ebenezer’s research has found that reflexology increases pain threshold and pain tolerance compared to sham reflexology. Previous studies had shown that the alternative medicine practice improves stress, anxiety, pain, and quality of life, although high-quality randomized trials are scarce.
“I believe that reflexology acts in a similar way to acupuncture to elicit its [pain-relieving] effects by releasing neurochemicals in the spinal cord and brain to attenuate pain signals,” he tells Yahoo Health. “Its anti-stress actions are probably similar to other forms of massage — for example, massaging the shoulders.”
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