Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) studies are about to change reflexology, providing illustration of some of reflexology's basic tenets.
In three separate studies, Hong Kong researchers explored with fMRI what happens in the brain when pressure or technique is applied to specific reflex areas of the left foot.
Reflexology applied to a specific part of the foot activated the reflected area. Specifically, technique stimulation applied to the inner lateral corner of the left great toe activated the right temporal lobe, the part of the brain related to the reflex area.
Reflexology technique stimulation of the eye reflex area activated a region of the brain matching acupupoint stimulation of stroke patients with vision defects but not the visual part of the brain.
Reflexology pressure work was compared to electro-acupuncture work. This study is discussed in detail below. The above-mentioned studies will be detailed in the future.
Their finding: the specific parts of the brain activated by such work correlates with reflexology's theory and intended use.
The studies were presented at the NeuroImage Meeting, the Annual Meeting of the Organization of Human Brain Mapping, 2005 and 2006. The researchers found that the"fMRI is useful to investigate the central neural pathway of reflexology." The researchers, Annie M. Tang, Geng Li, Chan C.C., Edward Yang, K.K.K. Wong and R. Li are with the University of Hong Kong.
Comparison of Foot Reflexology and Electro-Acupuncture
The researchers used fMRI to compare what happens in the brain when pressure is applied to foot reflexology's adrenal gland reflex area and what happens when electrical stimulation is applied to acupuncture's K1 point, both located in approximately the same area of the foot.
Findings: the areas of the brain activated by both "were mostly localized at insula region. The stimulated reflex zone and acupoint is the treatment point for psychological anxiety, inflammation and asthma according to Reflexology and Chinese medicine. The activation in insula demonstrated that massage (reflexology) or acupuncture stimuli at the point may probably regulate emotional and pain effects. Our results are consistent with the results in psychological asthma. Also, our results indicate that massage (reflexology) has the same function as acupuncture.
Annie M. Tang, Geng Li, Edward S. Yang, "Comparison of Foot Reflexology and Electro-Acupuncture: An fMRI study."
The insula is associated with emotions, pain and visceral functions as well as integration of homeostatic information. According to Dr. Martin Paulus, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego, the mind and body are integrated in the insula. "The insula itself is a sort of receiving zone that reads the physiological state of the entire body and then generates subjective feelings that can bring about actions like eating that keep the body in a state of internal balance."
The fMRI study showed that reflexology stimuli activate other areas of the brain, one of which receives information about sensory information such as pressure to the feet. This area is the somatosensory cortex, the homunculus or the "little man", a representation of the body projected onto the brain. Reflexologists view the reflexology chart as a representation of the body projected onto the foot. The fMRI study thus shows that stimuli applied to the representation of the body on the foot communicate with the representation of the body in the brain. (Kunz and Kunz have long contended that the foot reflexology chart is one of several "homunculi" of the body. At least five parts of the brain are organized as a homunulus.)
Implications of fMRI study
The implications are many, among them is an understanding of other recent studies. For one, reflexology work was found to improve pain tolerance and pain threshold.
Specific reflex areas impact on reflected parts of the body
It was demonstrated that reflexology technique applied to a reflex area impacted a specific, reflected part of the body. More than anything, these studies may affirm for reflexologists the importance of directing technique application to a specific reflex area to impact a specific, reflected part of the body. The impact sought is to improve or affect the function of that body part.
Pregnancy, childbirth and lactation
Reflexologists specializing in pregnancy or birthing, for example, apply technique to the hypothalamus reflex area with the goal of influencing the release of oxytocin, manufactured in the hypothalmus and important to lactation after birth as well as bonding between mother and child.
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