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Reflexology is a special kind of foot massage. I first became aware of it unexpectedly, many years ago. I became ill, being sick the whole night, and was taken into hospital in the morning with suspected gall bladder problems. The doctor came to examine me and started to press on the soles of my feet. When I asked him why he was doing this he said, "You can tell a lot from the feet." Since my problem was in the digestive system, I still did not understand, but many years later, when I decided to study reflexology myself, I came to realise why he had touched my feet.

Reflexology therapists (or reflexologists) think of the feet as a map of the whole body. They superimpose the organs of the body onto the soles of the feet in the same order and general position that they are found in the body; so the big toe corresponds to the top of the head, the ball of the foot to the lungs

It is thought that reflexology originated in China about 5000 years ago when pressure therapies were used to correct energy fields in the body. The ancient Egyptians also used a form of reflexology, a shown in a wall-painting in a tomb dating about 2330 BC at Saqqara, south of Cairo.

Illness occurs when the energy channels in the body become blocked, causing damage to one area or another. Reflexology massage is aimed at destroying these blocks, allowing the energy to flow ly again and so heal the damage.

Prior to giving the first reflexology treatment, the reflexologist will take down a detailed case history. This is important, since the therapy is not always suitable during preganncy or for anyone suffering from arthritis in the feet, diabetes, certain heart disorders, osteoporoses, phlebitis or thyroid disorders.

In a reflexology treatment, the therapist applies pressure with the side and end of the thumb to the sole or side of all reflex areas of both feet. If the body is unhealthy in the area that corresponds to the area on the foot being treated, the patient could experience some discomfort or pain. Treatments last for about an hour and six to eight sessions are usually needed to deal with a specific ailment.

Reflexology has been used to treat a number of common ailments, such as back pain, digestive problems, migraine, period problems, sinus problems and stress. Reflexologists also claim that they can sometimes detect an impending or potential illness and give preventive treatment if appropriate, or advise the patient to see a specialist.

Reflexology has been found to be particularly useful for patients suffering from stress and anxiety. In January 1990 tests were carried out by a group of nurses in a NHS hospital. Nine elderly patients were divided into three groups and asked to rate their stress level on a scale of 1 - 10. The first group had foot massage for an hour a day, the second an hour of counselling and the third group special no treatment at all. At the end of the test they were asked to rate their stress level again. Those who had received foot massage showed a marked decrease in anxiety. Those who had received counselling had a lower drop in anxiety and the patients who had received no special treatment had, if anything, higher anxiety levels than before.