Reflexology Myth 1: Real Reflexology Hurts

Must “real” reflexology hurt to be effective? Is bruising normal? No. Communication between client and reflexologist is key to a pleasant and effective session. Read more to dispel this myth and learn from two examples.

The “No pain, no gain” approach was once common in the U.S. Today’s professional reflexologist knows how to modulate pressure and work with the client to achieve the best outcome. (1, 2)

Reflexes can be tender. Why? Reflexes mirror the body. Reflexes are located in the tissue of the feet (and hands). Deposits, inflammation, and swelling in the tissue are common reasons for sensitivity. (3)

Proficient reflexologists modulate pressure. (2) If a reflex is tender, tell the reflexologist. The simple statement, “That area is tender,” is sufficient. “Lighten pressure, please” communicates your discomfort. The skillful reflexologist will not take offence. Differences exist between therapist and client perceptions. Communication fosters adaption during the session. Remaining silent and enduring discomfort does not benefit you, the therapist, or the session.

Once I asked a new client (whom I’ll call John) to report tenderness. John said stoutly: “Can’t you tell?” My response was: “This allows me to compare what I feel with what you feel. This produces a better session.” (Being a first-time client, John was concerned with the expense of “Trying reflexology,” so this response struck home.)

The tissue in John’s feet was highly congested with many deposits. The tissue was often numb. John couldn’t feel the deep pressure I applied. As I worked the reflex John reported that his foot was “coming alive again.” Sensitivity returned. It was a “feel good hurt.”

Lightening pressure, I worked around and into the area. The tissue and Bob’s sensitivity to pressure normalized. As discomfort lessened, I worked deeper (not gouging, but simply gently and deeper) with good, solid results. The session objective was met – to reduce pain in John’s body through reflexology. (4)

In the next example, I was the client. I set an appointment with a professionally trained reflexologist (whom I’ll call Jane) who was primarily a massage therapist. Tearful eyes and deep breathing characterized my experience. Jane discounted my verbal cues and refused to adjust technique. The session caused a great deal of pain and bruising. If this had been me as client, I would have stopped the session. In my role as reporter, I allowed the session to continue.

Jane claimed to work the diaphragm reflex. Instead, she tried flexing the joints of the ball of the foot and ground away on the bones.* Jane insisted she was on the reflex. She was not. Jane said she didn’t have many requests for reflexology. No surprise there.

I was bruised by both Jane’s reflexology and her massage. As a client, I asked Jane to lighten pressure. She did not. I did not return as a client.

*For professionals: Jane’s confusion was the inability to differentiate between the five metatarsophalangeal joints (MPJs) of the foot (5) and the diaphragm reflex which lies proximal to the distal heads of the metatarsal bones. (6)

Reflexology is a wonderful therapy to relieve pain and reduce stress. Speak out. Enjoy your session.

Send me your stories. . . .

Learn more:

(1) Therapeutic Reflexology, chapter 13, “Healing, Pressure, and Pain,” p. 123

(2) Therapeutic Reflexology, chapter 13, “Technique Approaches,” p. 124

(3) Therapeutic Reflexology, chapter 13, “Possible Reasons for Tenderness and Pain,” p. 125

(4) Therapeutic Reflexology, chapter 7, “Identifying Session Goals,” p. 69

(5) Therapeutic Reflexology, chapter 11, “Anatomy and Physiology of the Foot and Leg,” p. 102

(6) Therapeutic Reflexology, chapter 4, “Forms of Reflexology,” p. 33. See also “Understanding Reflexology of the Foot” chart.


Image courtesy of Google images.

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Paula S. Stone


Paula founded The Stone Institute LLC and its programs to empower individuals to make the best choices for their health and well being.

Paula Stone AA-Ed is an accredited reflexology instructor by the American Commission for Accreditation of Reflexology Education and Training.

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