The Healing Touch of Reflexology For Fibromyalgia & Pain
By Linda Chollar, CWC, AAEd
Originally published in the online magazine for the National Fibromyalgia Association.Vol.3 No.16
‘The Electricity of Touch’ is the title of a report from the Institute of HearthMath that measured the exchange of electromagnetic energy produced by the heart between individuals in certain healing techniques. Results showed that when we touch someone else, an exchange of energy takes place from heart to brain; if we touch someone while feeling an emotion like “care”, we’re potentially transmitting a signal to that person’s body that promotes well being and health. Science is confirming what we know in our hearts, that intentional, caring touch is good medicine.
Touch therapies are merging with traditional medicine as ‘integrative treatment options’. Foot Reflexology is one of those modalities getting much attention. The skillful therapy of reflexology can increase quality of life, lend emotional support, decrease stress and pain and serve as one component of a holistic health model.
Many patients diagnosed with chronic pain and syndromes such as fibromyalgia are integrating alternative therapy options for stress and pain relief. Reflexology is one of the first approaches I introduce because it is so effective at reducing pain and improving sleep. Results can be reported in the first session.
More physicians are referring patients for reflexology, hospitals are incorporating reflexology into wellness programs and reflexology will continue to play an important role in a multidisciplinary approach for managing stress and pain. Basic workshops are often available to learn reflexology techniques for self-care.
THERAPEUTIC TOUCH: A MISSING LINK
Fibromyalgia (FMS) is a syndrome characterized by amplified pain, fatigue, depression, sleep problems, gastrointestinal distress, poor concentration, poor circulation, restless leg syndrome, anxiety, headaches, deprivation of deep relaxation and more. Research has shown that fibromyalgia is a central nervous system dysfunction with abnormal levels of chemicals that process pain, thought to result in pain amplification and hyper sensitivity.
The fibromyalgia population is estimated to include 1 out of every 50 Americans, 5% of the world’s population, 75% women, average age from the 20s to the 50s and millions undiagnosed. FMS is a chronic but manageable syndrome with multiple treatment options from Western traditional to alternative medicine, counseling and experimental clinical trails. It has proven difficult to treat FM strictly by traditional medicine. Health care professionals and patients alike have turned to alternative and complementary methods of treatment.
Many FM patients have discovered that a missing link in their treatment options is therapeutic touch. Foot reflexology is chosen because it relaxes like a massage, only requires a patient to remove their shoes, is gentle and non-invasive and is aimed specifically at balancing the nervous system. Although many think of reflexology as being the same as massage, it is different, but provides some of the same benefits as massage therapy and more. Reported benefits include reduced anxiety, uplifted mood, improved sleep quality, relief for pain, stiffness and fatigue, and improved elimination – all symptoms common with fibromyalgia.
Many forms of bodywork such as massage therapy, reflexology, acupressure, myofascial release, polarity therapy, cranial sacral therapy, reiki and energy medicine therapies have been shown to effect physical and psychological components of pain. Complementary health professionals who understand the fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) can prove to be valuable members of the fibromyalgia patient’s healthcare team. A relationship with a qualified reflexologist familiar with FM can give a client/patient a sense of grounding and control that comes with the unique therapeutic effect of working with the feet.
A WHOLE BODY APPROACH
Pain management warrants a whole body approach to treatment. The emphasis on conventional pain management is often on the technology. Treating the whole person is core to complementary approaches. However, with traditional and complementary treatments, there is no single option that holds all the answers to the symptoms of chronic pain and fibromyalgia. The central nervous system abnormality, that science says is the root cause of FMS, presents challenges. A ‘systems oriented’ therapy, like reflexology, reduces stress in the entire body and recognizes the innate ability of the body to heal itself. In addition, the fibromyalgia individual must assume a take-charge attitude and become proactive in their lifestyle choices. Caring for the whole body can include such areas as nutritional support, stress coping strategies, proper exercise, sleep hygiene, natural pain management, meditation, yoga, breathwork, balancing work and play, cultivating joy and peace of mind.
FOOT REFLEXOLOGY AND RESEARCH
Dr. Robert Bennett, M.D. of the Oregon FM Foundation states that pain is the overriding problem for most FMS patients and many of the other problems are secondary consequences of having chronic pain. He says that when that pain is even partially relieved, significant improvement is experienced in psychological distress, cognitive abilities, sleep and functional capacity.
As a clinical reflexologist, my most common response from clients is that their pain is relieved after a reflexology session. This is commonly accepted as a result of the body experiencing what is called The Relaxation Response, also referred to as a parasympathetic state of the nervous system - the opposite of the fight-or-flight state. This response can decrease heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension, often resulting in pain reduction. Regular elicitation of this relaxation response has been scientifically proven (Herbert Benson, Mind Body Institute) to be an effective treatment for a wide range of stress-related disorders and pain. Chronic pain is associated with the fight-or-flight state and this type of deep relaxation calms the adrenal response to stress and messages of pain.
The research and clinical studies of Dr. Jesus Manzanares, M.D. author of Principles of Reflexology has validated that Reflexology works via the nervous system, triggered by the stimulation of reflexes (nociceptor neurons) in the feet. Dr. Manzanares studied 70,000+ patients to conclude the physiological changes that take place in the body as a result of the reflexology techniques. Considering that fibromyalgia has been determined to be a nervous system disorder(ing) and that the feet contain a rich network of nerves that communicate to the nervous system, foot reflexology is an effective and gentle touch therapy to help FMS individuals.
Dr. Manzanares’ reflexology research also included EEG studies that showed the brain wave changes from Beta to Theta that occur with reflexology application indicating a state associated with deep relaxation. Benefits: the relaxation of tension, normalization of gland and organ function, improved circulation and reduction of pain. Reflexology research on post-operative pain, nausea and its effects on blood flow can be viewed on the website for the Reflexology Association of America. Clinical reflexology education can be found at www.ManzanaresMethod.com
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About the Author: Linda Chollar, educator, speaker and author is a Nationally Accredited Reflexology Educator and alternative health care provider. Linda is available for lecture and workshops for fibromyalgia support groups, FM organizations and reflexology associations on the topic of Reflexology for Fibromyaliga: A Missing Link to Wellness. Contact for speaker availability.