Feet get shoved into shoes, pounded into the pavement and sometimes neglected, but they can hold the key to pain relief for some patients.
The nerve endings in the feet are linked to internal organs and systems across the body, and stimulating them through reflexology can ease pain and discomfort caused by all kinds of ailments, including those specific to the feet, such as bone spurs, and those throughout the body, such as arthritis, said Durango reflexologist Cressi Johnson. Johnson opened her practice, Durango Reflexology, in June 2019 after moving to town and failing to find a reflexologist for herself.
Reflexologists place pressure on nerve endings in the feet, hands, face and ears to provide relief from pain, muscle tension and stress, she said. Focusing on the feet can be particularly effective for some patients, she said.
“(Feet) take the sum total of the stress of our lives. ... They carry us through life and we don’t take that great of care of them, we just keep going. You just put your shoes on and you just go,” she said.
Reflexology is rooted in Asian tradition and was introduced to the United States in the early 1900s. When used to treat the feet, it can help release the lumps, knots and “crunchy” spots caused by extra nervous tissue, she said.
The extra tissue can be an indication of a chronic injury or sickness and using pressure on it can alleviate pain, prevent the body from putting out additional nervous tissue, and improve circulation in those areas, she said.
A human foot is home to about 7,000 nerve endings that all correspond to specific areas of the body, including organs and the spine. By targeting those nerve endings, reflexologists can improve blood, lymph and nerve flow to specific areas.
Some massage therapists incorporate reflexology into their practices, but they often provide much broader treatment to improve the health of tissue all over the body, rather than focusing on just neural pathways, Johnson said.
“They are like He-Man, they have to get your whole body,” she said.
One of Johnson’s patients, Jen Kwiatkowski, said she is a firm believer in body work such as massage and acupuncture and decided to try reflexology in December after a surgery to repair her shoulder prevented her from going to her massage therapist.
The reflexology session felt surprisingly similar to acupuncture, she said.
“It got me into the relaxed state that brought general ease throughout my body,” she said.
While working on Kwiatkowski’s feet, Johnson was able to identify old injuries based on the location of sore areas, she said. The reflexology treatment was not always comfortable in tender areas, but it did help her feel better later, she said.
Johnson said her goal is avoid pain when possible during the session, and she will return to tender spots several times to try to ensure the session is gentle.
Kwiatkowski also said she appreciated that while Johnson was working on her feet, she could sit up in a chair. She expects that aspect of the treatment might appeal to those who aren’t comfortable disrobing for a massage.
Johnson said reflexology often appeals to people with past trauma in their lives who aren’t comfortable with a traditional massage setting.
“I think the chair is nonthreatening,” she said.
Some of the common foot complaints that reflexology can ease include plantar fasciitis, bunions and bone spurs, she said.
Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the tissue on the bottom of the foot that can cause pain for years, she said.
Reflexology can also provide pain relief for chronic conditions. For example, it can provide relief for patients with fibromyaligia, which can cause widespread chronic pain through the body, Johnson said.
Reflexology targeting the feet is not recommended for patients who have a foot fungus or bacterial infections. It is also not suggested for patients who have extreme varicose veins, fragile skin and extreme peripheral neuropathy. Those with neuropathy cannot feel how the massage is affecting their feet and reflexology could cause an injury, Johnson said.
When patients have sensitive feet or other conditions, Johnson said she can work on their hands instead.
Sometimes patients can achieve relief in one to two reflexology sessions, and others choose to come regularly, as part of their self-care routine.
“It’s a break from everything else that’s going on, and they just kind of reset while you are working on them,” she said.
A reflexology treatment with Johnson is $60 for an hourlong foot-focused session, $30 for a 30-minute hand or foot session and $90 for a 90-minute hand and foot session.