Definitions of reflexology

What do we reflexologists do? If you have experienced reflexology trough ought the world you must surely noticed the difference in techniques. You might see big differences even between practitioner with the same teacher. The variety is great. But what ties us together? What is the common dominator of what we do?
I started to work with the definition of reflexology at the meeting of Nordic Reflexology Network 1 in 2007. Both foot reflexologists and full-body reflexologists attended this meeting. We tried to describe the practice of therapists from three countries and two branches of reflexology. Not an easy task, but the result was something everyone could accept, but not necessarily be happy with.
The following is my translation from Swedish to English of the result.

Foot reflexology/full-body reflexology is a form of treatment that use pressure usually on the feet, but even on other parts of the body, such as lower legs, hands, ears. In each of these body parts the whole body is reflected, which is to say that the whole body’s condition is assumed to be reflected in the zones. This promotes the healing process, where the goal is to strengthen man’s self-healing powers.

The idea was to incorporate this text into the national documents describing our profession, for use in marketing and toward governments.
On the AGM of RiEN (Reflexology in Europe Network) 2010 in Barcelona I held a speech about several issues related to defining reflexology in general, and more specific, issues with the definition that RiEN had in the appendix of their constitution. I also came up with a suggestion for a new definition for use in RiEN. It was at this time my interest for defining reflexology really woke up. If there exist a common definition and understanding of what reflexology is and is not, lots of misunderstandings can be avoided. Today more or less all writers and teachers in reflexology have their own opinion about what reflexology is. This will make the value of all research in this area very limited. In many definitions used around the world politics has been aloud to set limits for how reflexology can be defined. In my opinion it is important to separate what reflexology is from what is legal and accepted. There is a need for the ability to exclude therapy modalities that looks similar to the public, but are different for the practitioners. Similar, there is a need for the ability to include related therapies, that can look very different, even for practitioners. I will go into these things later. The most important thing might be having a solid foundation for further work on the theoretical foundation of reflexology.
Here follows the RiEN definition, with my criticism and my suggested new version.
Current Criticism Changed
Reflexology is an art and science that deals with the principle that there are reflex areas The term reflex imply a stimulation and a response is involved. Iris, teeth, nails are probably not susceptible for stimulation in a relevant manner. Reflexology is an art and science that deals with the principle that there are projections
in the feet and hands (and body) which No reason to list the feet and hands when they are both included in the body. on the body which
correspond to all of the glands, organs and parts of the body. No reason to list glands and organs when they are both included in the body. correspond to parts of the body.
Reflexology is a unique method
To say it is unique is redundant in a definition. If there were other equal methods, it had been enough to refer to them.
Reflexology is the method
of using pressure What about rubbing, stretching, etc.? of affect
applied by the thumb and fingers No reason for not using the elbow, a stick, etc.
on these reflex areas in Reflex must be changed to be consistent with the earlier change. these projections
order to support nature in maintaining homeostasis, Homeostasis is the tendency of a system or organism to stay the same. We want a change to something better. to gain health.
as far as may be achieved for each individual. How far it is done is not relevant for the definition.
It does this by stimulating the reflex areas This is repetition of earlier text.
which may help to relieve stress and tension, improve the blood supply to all areas of the body and promote the correct functioning of nerve impulses.
Why specify these, and drop all other effects?
In 2014 the Danish reflexology organizations was ready with their document Zoneterapeutisk Fagforståelse2. Of cause such document must include a definition. Unfortunately they did not base it on the previous work of Nordic Reflexology Network. But fortunately their new definition was much better.
The following is my translation from Danish to English.

In short, reflexology is a form of treatment, where pressure on one place on the body improves the functionality another place [on the body]. The theory says that the whole body (the macro-system) can be mirrored in a part of the body (micro-systems), witch communicates and interacts with the whole.

When I recently was going to include a definition in the document describing full-body reflexology for my organization, Norske Naturterapeuters Hovedorganisasjon3, I wanted to use this Danish definition as a base. In full-body reflexology we use the terms micro-system and macro-system for projections that is smaller and bigger than what they project, respectively. But the size of the projections is not of importance in the context of defining reflexology. Full-body reflexology also use other ways of affecting the body than pressure4. The word “mirror” is usually used in context with surfaces. Full-body reflexologists use a more three dimensional approach. This is the main reasons that there was a need for rewriting.
The following is my translation from Norwegian to English.

In short, full-body reflexology is a form of treatment, where by affecting one place on the body will improve the condition another place. The theory says that the whole or parts of the body is projected in a part of the body, witch communicates and interacts with the whole.

The definitions in this text goes from complex, detailed and limiting to more general and free. This definition does not limit the practitioner regarding tool, techniques, charts, etc. It is free from political influence. It does not favor any schools or traditions in reflexology. It does not say anything about the hypothesis of the mechanisms of reflexology. It includes for example ear acupuncture, but exclude all other types of massage.
As a curiosity I will include how i explain the difference between massage and reflexology. Massage works with only local intentions, reflexology works mostly with distal intentions.
I hope this text can inspire you to philosophize on what you do as a reflexologist. I also hope that you can start a discussion in you organization about this issue. Maybe in the future we can have a common definition. That will be great.


1 NRN is a network open to the public, without membership, without economy, primarily to exchange information between practitioners and organizations in the Nordic countries.
2 Zoneterapeutisk Fagforståelse can be translated to Understanding of the profession Reflexology. This document is still only available in Danish language.
3 NNH is a professional multi modality organization with separate groups for foot reflexologists and full-body reflexologists.
4 Full-body reflexologists are free to use whatever techniques and tools to affect the body they find use full. Examples are needles, light, rubbing, touching.

2 thoughts on “Definitions of reflexology

  1. Hello Arve,
    Interesting article.. yes, I have seen how every reflexologist develops their own technique, but I have seen a few who religiously stick to one routine. However, everything works one way or the other.. And that is, for me, the beauty of Reflexology. It is an Art. I love learning, from colleagues, the fantastic tutors I meet, and from clients. It’s a never ending (love) story. And each time I learn something new, it’s like an artist, who had discovered a new medium for his art. I mix and match and adapt to client, situation, time, health condition, wishes, and sometimes even expectations. I find the body reflexology very interesting too and hopefully I will attend a seminar or course some day..


    • I agree with you. It is an art, and the adaption to clients and our own preferences are important. But to lift reflexology to an academic level we must still try to find a common definition. There are no contradictions here. We still need to be able to say that one approach is better than another in a specific situation. This is one of the ways reflexology will be improved in the future. A common definition is the first step towards a common language to describe the mechanism and the nature of reflexology.
      Hope will meet in a full-body reflexology context. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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