Reflexology: Exploring the Mechanism of Action

20 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2022

See all articles by Judith Whatley

Judith Whatley

Cardiff Metropolitan University

Joanne Perkins

Swansea University

Dr Carol Samuel

University of Portsmouth


Reflexology is a complementary therapy focusing mainly on the application of pressure on the feet, hands and ears. A small but growing evidence base suggests that positive outcomes can be gained in the management and improvement of symptoms across a range of conditions. Biological plausibility is a key concept in the determination of the usefulness of therapies. Research which tests for safety and efficacy alongside the underpinning mechanism of action are therefore important.

This paper explores the potential mechanism of action for the outcomes associated with reflexology treatment as reflected in the current evidence. The influences of therapeutic touch, relaxation, placebo effects and the similarities with other therapeutic methods of structural manipulation are considered. The lack of clarity around the precise definition of  reflexology and the challenges of researching the therapy as a treatment tailored to individual need are discussed.

A deeper understanding of the mechanism of action for reflexology may help to further develop research into safety and efficacy. Such an understanding may lead to the integration of knowledge which may provide both symptomatic support and longer term preventative health benefits.

Funding Information: None declared.

Declaration of Interests: None declared.

Keywords: Reflexology, Reflex zone therapy, Mechanism of Action, Osteopathy, Fascia, CAM

Suggested Citation

Whatley, Judith and Perkins, Joanne and Samuel, Dr Carol, Reflexology: Exploring the Mechanism of Action. Available at SSRN: or

Judith Whatley (Contact Author)

Cardiff Metropolitan University ( email )

Western Avenue
Cardiff, CF5 2YB
United Kingdom

Joanne Perkins

Swansea University ( email )

Singleton Park
Singleton Park
Swansea, SA2 8PP
United Kingdom

Dr Carol Samuel

University of Portsmouth ( email )

University House
Winston Churchhill Avenue
Portsmouth, PO1 2UP
United Kingdom

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