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How Reflexology Worked to Relieve My Pain

Kate Swanson is an Australian writer and dancer. Reflexology worked to relieve the pain she experienced from a herniated disc.

Reflexology works. Looking at it with Western logic, it shouldn't work—it really shouldn't. I mean, how can a foot massage possibly cure pain in your neck, shoulder, or hip? Don't ask me; I can't explain it! But I can say that reflexology worked for me.

My Story

Many years ago, I slipped on a soapy, wet floor. I flung out my arm to save myself, and I landed with all my weight on one hand. The shock shot up my arm and into my neck, herniating a disc.

For those who don't know what a herniated disc is, let me explain.

What Is a Herniated Disc?

Between each bone in your spine there's a gel-like disc. When a disc herniates, the surface breaks and the jelly inside oozes out. Sensitive nerves run down either side of your spine, and the lump of gel rubs against them as you move. It's agonizing!

Once the jelly has escaped, you can't put it back in. Surgery is risky, and there's no guarantee it will actually reduce the pain. So I spent years trying alternative treatments. Chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture, traction, massage—you name it. Manipulative therapy helped, but even that didn't make the pain go away completely.

Anyone who has continual, nagging pain will tell you: they're willing to try anything. So when I went on a blind date and the guy told me he'd cured his frozen shoulder with reflexology, I dismissed it at first. I knew reflexology used the same meridians as acupuncture and acupressure, and I'd already tried both of those. But by the end of the date, I was asking him for the name of the therapist (that was the only thing I got out of that date, by the way—he never called again).

My First Reflexology Foot Massage

On my arrival at the clinic, I discovered the reflexologist had a limited understanding of English. She asked me "Where is pain?" and I pointed to my shoulder (one of the odd things about herniated discs is that the pain turns up in funny places—it's called "referred pain"). I started to explain that it was caused by a damaged disk, but she interrupted me, bustling me over to the massage bed.

Great start, I thought. She doesn't even understand my problem, there's no chance she'll be able to fix it.

Lying on the bed while she frowned and prodded the side of my foot, I couldn't help feeling stupid. Here I was, having my feet pummeled to fix a problem at the other end of my body. Was I serious?

At that point, she took hold of my big toe and I nearly hit the ceiling.

"Ah," she said, beaming with delight at her discovery. "You have problem with neck!"

That was the start of a very painful half hour, as she worked mercilessly on my toe. At the end, still feeling silly and now tortured, as well, I meekly made another appointment but swore silently that I wouldn't be back.

The next morning, I woke up and turned my head to the left for the first time in two years.


How to Choose a Reflexologist

Now, before you rush off to book an appointment, take care in your choice of therapist.

First, make sure you choose a practitioner who's a member of a recognised association. As I've discovered, there's a big difference in the results you'll get with a fully trained, specialist reflexologist like my miracle-worker above, and someone who's done a short course.

Also, keep in mind reflexology is not acupressure, although it uses the meridians in a similar way. The obvious difference is that acupressure treats the whole body whereas reflexology only works on the extremities, but the techniques are also different. Don't assume that an acupressurist will automatically be good at reflexology.

You also need to be aware that reflexology doesn't work for everyone. About 25% of people simply never feel benefit from it at all. That's not due to the skill of the practitioner, it's just that some people are sensitive to the treatment and some are not. And even if it works for you, it usually takes three or four visits to see significant results. I was just very lucky!

Finally, I should clarify that, of course, reflexology didn't cure my herniated disc. I've still got it, and finally had surgery last year (30 years after the accident!). What reflexology does - very effectively - is block the pain and stop the spasms for long periods of time. My surgeon was amazed that I'd been able to avoid surgery for so long. I'm glad I did, because spinal surgery in the neck is fraught with possible complications, and by delaying, I was able to undergo a new, more advanced method of surgery that is much safer.

DIY Reflexology

If you're traveling, or money is tight, you might like to try giving yourself a reflexology treatment. Personally, I never feel a DIY session is as effective as having my feet kneaded by someone else - but when there's no alternative, it's better than nothing!

You'll find lots of books and DVD's on Amazon to help you, but my personal preference is Reflexology for the Feet and Hands, by Geri Riehl. It's fairly basic but that's a good thing as it doesn't confuse you with more advanced techniques. The instruction is nice and clear and the music is soothing. It also comes complete with a reflexology chart, which you'd have to buy separately with some other DVD's.

If you're thinking of doing your own treatments, then I would always suggest having at least one session with a trained reflexologist. It's difficult to get an idea of the subtleties from a DVD - things like how much pressure to apply, for instance. Also, a professional will pinpoint areas where you need special attention, which you might miss starting out on your own.

I wish you happy feet!

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.

© 2010 Kate Swanson


Rebecca on June 04, 2018:

I had what I thought was an inflamed disc (very painful) and it got completely cured with some sessions from a Network spinal analysis practitioner (it used to be called network chiropractic) which is a very gentle form of chiropractic (they have to do a lot of extra training on top of dr of chiropractic to do this) where they just very lightly touch the spine and the body adjusts itself. It was expensive but did the job.

Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on April 06, 2015:

Yes, if it's done properly it is uncomfortable. You can find therapists who will be gentle, but they are usually not effective.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on April 06, 2015:

my mom in law tried reflexology not long ago since she had sprained her knees, she said it was uncomfortable.

Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on March 10, 2014:

Great to hear it worked for you, Anne. Reflexology enabled me to avoid surgery too - amazing how powerful it can be.

annerivendell from Dublin, Ireland on March 10, 2014:

I was looking at surgery for a recurring sinus problem before I discovered reflexology. It worked, and is still working over 10 years later. Great hub. Voted up.

kavitharam from chennai on February 15, 2013:

useful hub

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on December 25, 2012:

A very useful hub. I didn't know that reflexology just works on the extremities and not the whole body as in acupressure. Thanks for the clarification. Up and useful.

Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on October 15, 2011:

Betty, I have a bulging disc in my neck and reflexology helped my pain a lot.

Betty Mitchell on October 07, 2011:

My son has a buldging dis on his spine what can I do to help him

Stacie L on October 04, 2011:

This is good information as I have the same injury as you.

I have limited success with chiro and massage and frankly don't want my bones pushed around as they are damaged.

I have tried this in the past but it may be hard for me to play with m own feet.LOL

lindajot from Willamette Valley - Oregon on January 15, 2011:

I wasn't too much of a believer til I took a class in the basics, and the teacher was able to tell one student she was pregant - the gal didn't even know, but it turned out true. I have had good results from it with cramps and headaches - pretty amazing stuff! Nice hub, by the way.

Reflexo on October 14, 2010:

Great information! I'm glad you felt the benefits after the first session, you got a good practicioner.

Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on April 24, 2010:

Yes it's good for all ages. I can't say whether it relieves stress but it certainly relaxes muscles and it helped my pain a huge amount.

ashakhan from india on April 24, 2010:

hi love is it good for all ages and is it good for relieving stress and pain

Enlydia Listener from trailer in the country on April 23, 2010:

Marisa...thank you for that info...I won't be so nervous about putting some pressure on...the point is not just to feel good, but to help.

Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on April 17, 2010:

That's interesting, Enlydia. Since that treatment I've gone back to other reflexologists for the occasional flare-up - and I have to say, I find the gentle reflexologists don't work for me at all!

Not that it has to be excruciating, but I find that unless the therapist uses a really firm touch, it doesn't have the same benefit.

Enlydia Listener from trailer in the country on April 17, 2010:

Hi Marisa...I am a reflexologist, so I appreciate your is nice to hear "it works!"...when I work on someone I try not to produce more pain...there are different thoughts on this...we were taught to use gentle touch....As a therapist it is really easy to spot the problem can feel it is sort of a crunchy feeling. I was trained in Ohio.

Rafini from Somewhere I can't get away from on March 15, 2010:

Cool! I'm glad it worked for you. :)

anitariley65 from Little Town Ohio on March 07, 2010:

Great hub! I swear by reflexology. It is great for arthritis pain also.