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Complementary and Holistic Asthma Therapies: Reflexology

For me, reflexology is a complementary therapy that has a part in my holistic approach to managing my asthma.


Asthma in a Nutshell

Asthma is a lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties. It's a lifelong condition with no cure.

This condition is caused by inflammation of the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. The inflammation makes the breathing tubes become narrow and sensitive and can occur randomly or after exposure to a trigger. The tubes may also sometimes become clogged with sticky mucus.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • allergens, such as dust mites, animal fur, and pollens
  • other irritants, such as cigarette smoke, strong smells, gases, cold air, and perfumes
  • exercise
  • chest infections

Asthma attack signs and symptoms include:

  • Severe shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain, and coughing or wheezing
  • Low peak expiratory flow (PEF) readings, if you use a peak flow meter
  • Symptoms that fail to respond to the use of a quick-acting (rescue) inhaler

Asthma treatment and self-management are aimed at keeping the asthmatic symptom-free while taking the least amount of medicines necessary. How is reflexology beneficial to the management of asthma?

How Can Reflexology Help With Asthma Management?

Reflexology has a relaxing and stimulating effect when it's performed. The relaxed state triggers slower, deeper respiration. The non-invasive therapy helps ‘balance’ organs and tissues throughout the body and, acting through the nervous system, it can actually help strengthen and normalise the circulatory and respiratory system. Therapists suggest reflexology can help the body strengthen lung and bronchial tissue.

The main areas to focus on in reflexology are the respiratory system, the nervous system, and the circulatory system.

Reflexology foot chart

Reflexology foot chart

Reflexology and the Respiratory System

The respiratory system consists of seven key reflexes:

The nose filters and warms the air as it enters and is our first line of defence against bacteria and pathogens.

The sinuses are lined with mucus within the skull and secrete mucus to act as a barrier which warms and moistens the inspired air.

The trachea/pharynx/larynx are passageways for air, trapping, and expelling foreign particles.

The bronchi are air passageways between the trachea and alveoli

The lungs contain a network of alveoli which are involved in exchanging air. They also contain a pleural cavity. The pleura is a membrane which folds back onto itself to form a two-layered membrane structure. The thin space between the two pleural layers is known as the pleural cavity and normally contains a small amount of pleural fluid. The outer pleura (parietal pleura) is attached to the chest wall. The inner pleura (visceral pleura) covers the lungs and adjoining structures, via blood vessels, bronchi and nerves.

The diaphragm is a thin sheet of muscle under the lungs and a major muscle of respiration.

The ileocecal valve, as far as reflexology is concerned, is considered part of the respiratory system for the reason that it controls the flow of mucus through the GI tract.

Working the respiratory reflexes in reflexology can help calm the respiratory rate enabling relaxation as it deepens respiration and improves lung capacity. This occurs by relaxing any tightness in the respiratory muscles which allows the body to get more oxygen to cells and aid in the removal of waste products.

Reflexology and the Nervous System

The nervous system is a network of nerves and cells that carry messages to and from the brain and the spinal cord to various parts of the body. The nervous system includes both the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system is made up of the somatic and autonomic nervous systems.

Working the nervous system through reflexology is said to stimulate more than 7,000 nerves in the feet. Reflexology encourages the opening and clearing of pathways to the brain and body.

Reflexology and the Circulatory System

The circulatory system is made up of the vessels and the muscles that help and control the flow of blood around the body. The circulatory system consists of the heart, blood, and blood vessels which transport the blood around the body.

By reducing stress and tension, reflexology allows the cardiovascular (heart) vessels to conduct the flow of blood naturally and easily. The circulatory system is stimulated when using reflexology by speeding up the removal of toxins from the system and providing the body with a better supply of oxygen and nutrients.

Is There Scientific Evidence To Back Up Reflexology?

It is important to stress that reflexology therapists don't claim to cure, diagnose or prescribe by using reflexology as a treatment. This technique helps people to cope at a physical, mental, and emotional level, encouraging them to self-heal from within and/or maintain good health.

Treatments such as reflexology, yoga, acupuncture, homeopathy, and hypnotherapy are usually referred to as complementary therapies, not alternative therapies. This is because it's always best to use them alongside (to complement) your prescribed medicines, not instead of them (as an alternative).

Scientific evidence seems to follow a conclusion that reflexology doesn't have a specific effect on asthma beyond placebo influence. The trouble is, complementary and holistic therapies haven't been studied as much as conventional medicines, so there's not very much scientific evidence to show they work or that they're even safe. The latest BTS/SIGN guidelines on the management of asthma say that no long-term benefits have been proven and that more research is needed before reflexology can be recommended.

An Asthmatic's View

As an asthmatic, having suffered multiple episodes of pneumonia before my asthma diagnosis and treatment, I feel that those of us who have an understanding, who look for self-management tools, and who control their asthma well with medication may well see that complementary, holistic therapies, such as reflexology, initiate improvements for wellbeing.

I say this because in searching for self-help, changing my lifestyle, and being more mindful of my health, I am looking, feeling, and managing my symptoms much better.

Those of us who are proactive about helping ourselves while being sensible about our medication might benefit from holistic and complementary therapies the most. The scientific world may think that reflexology has nothing more than a placebo effect on asthma, but I know that reflexology helps me to remain calm, alter stress, breathe better, and have a better understanding of my body and the problems it faces.

For me, reflexology is a complementary therapy that has a part in my holistic approach to managing my asthma. I expect I could manage solely on my inhalers, but I also expect to have further episodes of pneumonia due to stress lowering my immune system, blood pressure pills due to a continued poor diet, and anxiety medication for my medical anxiety. Therein lies my point; nothing in life can be taken for granted, no medication will save us if we surround ourselves with ignorance, and nothing is a standalone cure.

I have a lot to thank reflexology for, and even if it hasn't physically reduced my inflamed bronchial tubes, it has given me an insight into how to help myself cope with this random disease.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Michelle How (author) on May 17, 2017:

Thank you for your comment Larry Rankin.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on May 16, 2017:

Interesting take.

Michelle How (author) on May 16, 2017:

It needs tweaking but this is something that is very close to my heart, literally! Thank you for commenting.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 16, 2017:

Very helpful, Michelle. My wife has asthma and I'm passing this on to her. Thank you!