Reflexology: Healing Touch? for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain
by Linda Chollar, AAEd, CWC, NBCR

Touch Is Good Medicine

Rising to meet the challenge of supporting the Fibromyalgia community, specific bodywork and touch therapies are merging with the allopathic as integrative treatment options. A wellness program that includes healing touch plays an important role in providing much needed relaxation and a multidisciplinary approach for managing common symptoms associated with the syndrome of Fibromyalgia: pain, fatigue, depression, sleep problems, gastrointestinal distress, poor concentration, poor circulation, restless leg syndrome, anxiety and headaches.

Studies and clinical research show that touch is an effective and essential component of a holistic health model. Research at the Touch Research Institute in Florida studied fibromyalgia adults that received moderate pressure massage therapy. The results reported reduced pain and anxiety, uplifted mood, improvements in sleep, energy and overall stiffness. Many forms of bodywork such as reflexology, acupressure, myofascial release, polarity therapy, cranial sacral therapy, reiki and energy medicine therapies have been shown to be effective for physical and psychological components of pain.

The Institute of HeartMath issued a report titled, The Electricity of Touch, about their study that measured the cardiac energy exchange between individuals in certain healing techniques. It presents intriguing evidence that an exchange of electromagnetic energy produced by the heart occurs with touch or close contact of two people. The observed effects of caring touch gives a plausible mechanism to explain how this energy from an individual can facilitate the healing process.

We instinctively know that intentional, loving touch is good medicine. It can create hope, ameliorate the symptoms of disease and calm the body and soul. Skilled therapeutic touch can increase the quality of life, lend emotional support, decrease pain and enhance the effectiveness of pharmacological interventions.

Whole Body Approach to Healing

The emphasis on pain management is often on the technology...pain warrants a wholistic approach to treatment, addressing the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual body/mind connection. (Wright, S. The Use of Therapeutic Touch in the Management of Pain. Nursing Clinics of N. America. 1987;22(3)705-714).

With traditional and complementary treatments, there is no single approach that holds all the answers to the symptoms of chronic pain and fatigue. Pain causes changes in the central nervous system that present a cascade of acute and chronic challenges. Therefore a systemic approach utilizing multiple disciplines must be taken in an effort to break the cycle of increased sensitivity to pain and decreased physical activity. Alternative practitioners and physicians who specialize in managing fibromyalgia patients agree that a multidisciplinary approach is essential to improve quality of life and regain wellness.

Dr. Robert Bennett, M.D. (, states that pain is the overriding problem for most FM patients and many of the other ‘symptoms’ 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. Further, he adds that worthwhile improvements can nearly always be achieved by a careful, systemic analysis of the pain complaints.

Feet First: A Natural Step for Pain Relief

One approach that is effective to facilitate relief from overall body pain is Foot Reflexology. Reflexology provides a whole body treatment through stimulation of the feet. It is easily integrated into other body therapy approaches and is well received by the fibromyalgia client because the treatment is applied to the feet, being distal to most body pain. Reflexology also gives a sense of grounding, safety and feels non-invasive to the hypersensitivity of the fibromyalgia body.

The relaxation response provoked by reflexology is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress (e.g., decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension). Regular elicitation of the relaxation response has been scientifically proven to be an effective treatment for a wide range of stress-related disorders. (Herbert Benson, Mind Body Institute.

As a Reflexologist who specializes in chronic pain conditions, I help fibromyalgia sufferers experience relief from pain with foot reflexology when no other approaches have helped. Clients who are under the care of a physician can experience reduced medications and doctor visits.

Reflexology and Contemporary Research

Researchers the world over are investigating the use of reflexology for specific symptoms and diseases (pathologies). A recent international reflexology conference in Israel gathered medical experts from around the globe presenting reflexology research for cancer. Other Reflexology research findings include: relaxation of tension, normalization of gland and organ function (e.g., improved control of diabetes type ll and premenstrual symptoms); improved circulation; reduction of pain (acute and chronic); improved effectiveness of medication; reduced need for medication; reduced hypertension and decrease of free radicals.

Dr. Wang Liang, in an analysis of 8,096 clinical cases in China reported foot reflexology as more than 93% effective in treating 63 disorders. Details on these studies and many more are available at Dr. Jesus Manzanares, M.D. from Barcelona, Spain has spent the past 30 years in reflexology research on 70,000 clinical cases, developing reflexology protocols for most pathologies. His research and more is posted at

Physiology of Reflexology: Why it Works

Neurologically, the activation of nerve receptors in the hands and feet changes the tempo and tone of the body by sending new messages into the system, which responds by becoming homeostatic (balanced). In essence, the foot or hand becomes a conduit for sharing information throughout the body. Pressure applied to the feet generates a signal through the central nervous system where it is processed in various parts of the brain, is relayed to the internal organs and on to the motor system. This message is fed forward to adjust the body's tone or overall tension level. If applied properly the tone will reset itself to a lower operating tempo, a lessening of stress and less wear and tear on the body's systems.

With the extensive nerve distribution in the feet and hands, and the large portion of sensory and motor area of the brain devoted to these body parts, stimulation of the feet activates the responses of the gait control mechanism and hyper stimulation analgesia. Body wide effects are the result. Lymphatic movement is enhanced and a release of endorphins (the body's natural pain relieving chemicals) and other endogenous chemicals are triggered.

Dr. Manzanares’ research validates the nervous system as the basis for the foot-to-body connection. He developed the first medical-based maps to show the areas in the feet that correspond to the body and maps in the brain. The neurological action produced by stimulating receptors in the feet occurs via a path of impulse and the structures and circuitry involved in the nervous system.

The therapeutic touch of reflexology is a way of connecting with the healing energies of the universe, of creating a conduit that helps those who need comfort to re-connect with themselves and ‘reboot’ the nervous system. Chronic pain is the body in constant fight-or-flight messages. When those messages are intercepted with healing touch, the body and mind can find balance, freedom from pain and a renewed sense of wellbeing.

We all have medicine to offer through our hands and a skilled therapist will prove to be an extremely valuable addition to a wellness team. Dr. J. Madison Taylor, M.D. wrote in 1908: "No single therapeutic agent can be compared in efficiency with this familiar but perfect tool...The Human Hand. If half as much research had been expended on the principles governing manual treatment as upon pharmacology, the hand would be esteemed today on a par with drugs in acceptability and power."

Certified Reflexologists are listed on professional association websites. It is advised to qualify individuals by their credentials and expertise, as not all practitioners are trained in the complexity of fibromyalgia and chronic pain. Inform your doctor that you are receiving reflexology or other alternative treatments. Reflexology and other integrative approaches do not replace the need for medical care. Always consult your doctor regarding health concerns.


Institute of HeartMath:
Touch Research Institute:
?Reflexology Association of America:
International Council of Reflexologists:
?Reflexology Association of Canada:
American Reflexology Certification Board:

Copyright © 2010. Linda Chollar. All Rights Reserved.?Permission to Reprint: This article may be reprinted in its entirety with the following attribution: Reprinted by permission of Linda Chollar, Reflexology Business Success Coach,

Author's Bio: 

Linda Chollar, AAEd, CWC, NBCR is a Holistic Health Pain Specialist, Accredited Reflexology Educator and Mentor. She specializes in treatment for Fibromyalgia and chronic pain and teaches reflexology at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in CA. As a business mentor, she provides success coaching for reflexology professionals via personal phone sessions, teleclasses and education. For more information: and