Reflexology
Posted: 12 May 2008 09:31 AM   [ Ignore ]
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As an atheist and critical thinker, I’m a naturally skeptical person with a sharp mind. I can see the fallacies of many types of alternative healing, yet there are some practices that I feel work. First of all, I’ve noticed that many freethinkers tend to enact a knee-jerk response as mentioned in another thread to anything not administered by pharmacuticals. It is frusterating, because I am both a critical and open-minded person, and being in a community of freethinkers is most likely to mean being in a community of alternative medicine bashers, so to speak.

Reflexology is the practice of stimulating nerves on the feet and hands to temporarily aide a “blockage” or problem. I have been practicing it since I was young, and no I am not “brainwashed” by it, it actually works.

How much does it “cure”? I don’t know. But to say that the effects are “placebo”? Ignorance.

It makes sense: all of the nerves in our body connect at the feet, the most sensitive part of the body. If we press a nerve, it will react. If we have a health problem, is is generally do to a part of our body that is out of wack. Pressing a point causes a response, thus the feeling of relief.

When I had a terrible cold, I performed reflexology by pushing my toes on one foot (holding and pulsing with the other) against a slightly sharp edge of a table. The pulsing caused different feelings throughout my body: discomfort in the form of a slight “shock”, a warm tingling sensation, followed by a feeling of “wetness”. These nervous responses are hard to explain. As I pulsed my sinus spot, my sinuses cleared. After the treatment on the whole foot, I felt deep relaxation and calm. Reflexology also teaches that spots on the toes that appear puffy may connect to a problem area. After treatment, my puffiness goes away. When I am sick, my toes get very red. My foot doctor simply told me toes “just do that’, but relfexology points to an issue. After treating red toes, the puffiness goes away and I feel better. I have countless success stories based on reflexology, including a time when I had the flu and for awhile felt normal.

It works, I feel the effects, and honestly…even if I don’t have “scientific evidence”, I feel great relief and good feelings, so thanks but I’ll continue. I’m not proposing we should substitute it for any kind of medicine, and I notice the effects are temporary, but sometimes temporarily giving your big toe a massage instead of popping a liver-damaging Advil is for the best.

If you want to outright call reflexology bullshit, fine. That is your right. But sometimes I notice that many people bash it before they try it. Of course we should study this in detail, but we should also keep in mind that sometimes the most simple approaches are the most effective, and not every discovery that “works” is made in a labratory.

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Posted: 12 May 2008 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Sure, massage (which is all reflexology is) can give temporary respite from some forms of discomfort. The problem comes when people claim that it can cure disease. Also much of the supposed rationalization for reflexology (“zone therapy”) is simple bunk.

For more on this, see Quackwatch HERE, HERE and HERE.

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Posted: 12 May 2008 12:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yes, sadly the problem here is epistemelogical. Being as skeptic is not just expecting to see evidence for claims, but to see evidence that is meaningful. And while deeply convincing, personal experience and anecdote are not meaningful as evidence. Though we can, and probably will, disagree about why, the same “evidence” you offer for reflexology kept therapeutic bloodletting in business for centuries and keeps religion alive and well. Do something, feel something, then look for a causal connection or general pattern. Perfectly reasonable, and a handy, fast, practical approach to understanding causation. Unfortunately, also often wrong.

Science works better, though it’s complicated, slower, and less emotionally satisfying often. It’s fine if you feel good after doing something. But it doesn’t mean that what you did cured you. It might mean this, but the only way to know for sure is the “scientific evidence” you put scare quotes around. We can debate the details of reflexology theory and evidence but if you begin with the position that your experience is all the evidence that is necessary to “prove” it works, then you are a believer, not a skeptic in this area, and rational debate is pointless.

It is understandable, but unfair and false, to assume that those of us who disagree with you have a pre-existing bias against what you claim. It’s just that we have different standards of evidence. You don’t apparently believe a Christian who says prayer cured their cold, because the only evidence is their experience and their word for it. Likewise, I don’t see your experience or word as sufficient to prove reflexology true. I prefer a plausibile mechanism consistent with the massive and detailed knowledge we already have of how the body and siease works, followed by experimental evidence of good quality. In my mind, that’s what being a skeptic requires.

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Posted: 14 May 2008 12:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Our bodies do an incredible job of healing themselves. Relaxation and good blood circulation along with less stress and tension can aide the body in returning it’s natural balance and giving it a chance to heal. Many of our health problems are induced by our own stress and tension. Of course there are zones in our nervous system, we aren’t simply bundles of nerves with random response patterns, and the nerves are all connected. There is nothing wrong with treatment that feels good and helps someone.

On the subject of research, I am all for science, but if by your standards being a “skeptic” means to wait around for a complicated, slow study to take place and statistics to be recorded and possibly inept conclusions to be reached in order to find out new things, then I’m fine with not being one! smile Besides, who is to say what evidence is “meaningful”? That is an opinion, is it not? I question everything but I don’t simply go by the results, I use my own reasoning as well from my own experiences. I would know best, it’s my own life! Not saying you don’t, but that is what you implied to me.

Part of being a free-thinker is not being ashamed of trying new possibilities and scenarios. Waiting for something to happen will not make it so. In addition, where do you think those researchers got the ideas for their studies? From personal observation. I think you undermine the value of personal experience. To me, rational thought is being open to the fact that we are CONSTANTLY learning and we can never truly know. We gather conclusions and form facts from evidence, but those facts may be updated, changed and re-formatted. We’re all people and we all have a right to feel we what we feel and ponder our ideas.

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Posted: 14 May 2008 07:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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peppermint 14 May 2008 12:52 PM
There is nothing wrong with treatment that feels good and helps someone.

Well, there is something wrong with spending good money on something that doesn’t actually do the thing it claims to do.  If you say reflexology merely relaxes the body, like massage, then I can decide if I want to pay you for your time or take a warm bath.  If you claim that: 

Reflexology also teaches that spots on the toes that appear puffy may connect to a problem area. After treatment, my puffiness goes away. When I am sick, my toes get very red. My foot doctor simply told me toes “just do that’, but relfexology points to an issue. After treating red toes, the puffiness goes away and I feel better. (posted 12 May 2008 09:31 AM)

then that specific healing claim can be tested to see if it is coincidence (as a skeptic, you must admit that it could be) or if the pressing on your feet cures your cold (or whatever).

Are you familiar with the Rosa Therapeutic Touch study?  (Rosa, L, E. Rosa, L. Sarner, and S. Barrett. 1998. A Close Look at Therapeutic Touch. JAMA 279: 1005-1010)  An elegant and simple study of the claim that TT practitioners can feel the “energy field” of another.  It didn’t cost anything but time and showed that the practitioners couldn’t feel it.

A reflexology study can be as cheap and simple.  It needn’t be complicated or slow.

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Posted: 15 May 2008 02:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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You don’t think it does the thing it claims to? Well, Prozac doesn’t work on everyone, Advil doesn’t always “block” headaches. Surgeries can be fatal. We pay good money for all of these. Good news: you don’t need to pay money to practice reflexology! If you’re at all interested, check out:  http://healing.about.com/od/reflexologyappl/ss/handreflexsteps.htm as an example. It’s more than massage because it stimulates different nerve pathways. The feet are the most sensitive part of the body for a reason!

When you press spots on your ears, hands, feet, etc, you will feel mild discomfort/pressure at first and then relief, good feelings in the area and a sense of “energizing”. The sensation is a lot like stretching; stretch one leg and feel the circulation, the nice feelings, and then you’ll suddenly become aware of the stagnation in the other.

On the subject of coincidences, again, I recommend you test it out on yourself. Consider that every little thing helps, too.


Complicated? Slow? It can be whatever you want it to be. And I hardly think it’s either. A self-treatment can last anywhere from one minute to one hour. It’s not hard to do either, and it feels great.

I doubt you’ve ever had a really good foot rub! wink It’s something that’s up to the individual. Like I said, reflexology is not “a cure”, it’s a relaxing and stimulating practice. It can aide a cure, it can trigger a response, etc. Who knows? It’s something I highly recommend you try out yourself.

[ Edited: 15 May 2008 02:20 PM by peppermint ]
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Posted: 16 May 2008 07:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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peppermint - 15 May 2008 02:14 PM

You don’t think it does the thing it claims to? Well, Prozac doesn’t work on everyone, Advil doesn’t always “block” headaches. Surgeries can be fatal. .

Peppermint, you are correct. There is no treatment that works on everyone, and virtually every treatment will ‘work’ on some people, but that doesn’t mean that all treatments are equal. Real effects need to be seperated from placebo effect. The difference between Prozac, Advil, and Surgical procedures is that they have all been subject to controlled trials. If you can find any controlled studies on reflexology i would be happy to read them, but most studies on alternative treatments like this are usually very poorly done.

peppermint - 15 May 2008 02:14 PM

Like I said, reflexology is not “a cure”, it’s a relaxing and stimulating practice. It can aide a cure, it can trigger a response, etc. Who knows? It’s something I highly recommend you try out yourself.

You are within your rights to have an opinion about reflexology’s ability to relax and stimulate you, however you need to be careful not to make claims like “it can aid a cure”.  Such claims need to be backed up with scientific evidence in the form a a controlled study. I am not aware of any such evidence.

peppermint - 15 May 2008 02:14 PM

Part of being a free-thinker is not being ashamed of trying new possibilities and scenarios. Waiting for something to happen will not make it so. In addition, where do you think those researchers got the ideas for their studies? From personal observation. I think you undermine the value of personal experience. To me, rational thought is being open to the fact that we are CONSTANTLY learning and we can never truly know. We gather conclusions and form facts from evidence, but those facts may be updated, changed and re-formatted. We’re all people and we all have a right to feel we what we feel and ponder our ideas. .

You are confusing the notion of being ‘open’ to new ideas with the notion of unconditionally ‘accepting’ new ideas. We should certainly be open to new ideas, and you are right that many new ideas start with anecdotal reports. The key is that they start with anecdotes, they don’t end there. Anecdotes can peak your interest but you can’t discuss an idea as a serious theory unless it is testable, and you have scientific evidence to back it up. If you begin and end with anecdotes then you only have a belief system not a scientific theory. You are also right that you do have the right to feel and believe and ponder anything you want, but you don’t have the right to call it science or medicine or even logical unless you stick to rational principals and scientific methods of investigation and rigorous standards of evidence.

[ Edited: 16 May 2008 02:11 PM by macgyver ]
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Posted: 17 May 2008 06:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I think what is happening here is that the Medical Model of care is butting heads against the Holistic or Nursing Models of care.

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Posted: 17 May 2008 06:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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OldSquid - 17 May 2008 06:29 AM

I think what is happening here is that the Medical Model of care is butting heads against the Holistic or Nursing Models of care.

This is not a turf battle Squid or even a philisophical one. This is a matter of science and reason versus what amounts to almost a religion. Medical care should always be grounded in good science. Anything less is unethical.

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Posted: 17 May 2008 08:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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What is troubling about peppermint’s original post is that she claims to be a skeptic, but does not have a skeptical view of many things.  I have offered a reasoned and sound criticism of reflexology, as have macgyver and mckenzie.  What we are getting back is not scientific.  Studies on the effectiveness of reflexology can be done, simply and cheaply, as with the Rosa study on TT.  Until then, I will remain skeptical that pressing on my foot can do anything for the rest of my body.  Nor should anyone receive the service and be expected to pay for it.

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