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Reflexology is a technique of complementary and alternative medicine, which is not defined in Medical Subject Headings other than to distinguish it from reflexotherapy and medicine. The Reflexology Society of America does indicate that it can be hard to define, offers a basic definition as "The systematic, manual stimulation of the reflex maps located on the feet, hands and outer ears that resembles a shape of the human body." One meta-analysis did not show evidence of effectiveness for any particular condition except with the exception of urinary symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis, [1] another by E. Ernst found no benefits. [2]

The Society identifies two essential aspects of the discipline:[3]

  1. "A Reflex Map of a body that is touched" (see, for example, [4]
  2. "Touch Techniques Unique to Reflexology"

While reflexes are within the scope of other disciplines, such as neurology, the use of the reflex map distinguishes reflexology from other techniques that involve manipulating the body, including: massage; techniques based on the traditional Chinese medicine concept of meridians rather than a reflex map; light touch or non-touch techniques such as reiki and therapeutic touch.

The specific touch techniques used, in conjunction with the reflex map, differentiate it from massage or a foot rub, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, physical therapy, Auriculo Therapy (i.e., medical use of implements, diagnosis, treatment of via the ears), acupuncture, reflexognosy, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching, joint manipulation or postural integration of the hands and feet, and polarity.

Reflex map

The RSA specifically says that the reflex map does not correspond to the meridian model. It does not map to the nerve distributions in conventional neuroanatomy.


  1. Wang MY, Tsai PS, Lee PH, Chang WY, Yang CM. (June 2008), "(Abstract) The efficacy of reflexology: systematic review", J Adv Nurs 62 (5): 512-20.
  2. Ernst E (7 September 2009), "(Abstract) Is reflexology an effective intervention? A systematic review of randomised controlled trials.", Med J Aust 191 (5): 263-6
  3. Reflexology Society of America, Report: Definitions of Reflexology
  4. Reflexology Research, Hand Reflexology Chart