• Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Integrative Medicine)

Can You Feel Your Feet, and What Are They Doing to Your Heartbeat?


Imagine for a moment a busy retail store at 3 o’clock on a sunny afternoon, you hear a door slam, turn to look in the direction of the sound, a friend waves and you go on with your shopping.

Now imagine the same retail store, the same door slamming but it is 3 o’clock in the morning and you are surrounded by darkness. As you turn to look in the direction of the sound, what happens to your heart rate? To your adrenal glands and sympathetic nervous system? To your brain waves? To your digestive and immune system? To the large muscles in your legs?

For many people, the experience of the door slamming will affect their body in different ways. The identical sound in the darkness when you think you are alone, does not have the same effect as when you are surrounded by sunshine in a busy environment. We receive a significant amount of sensory information from our eyes, ears, nose and mouth as well as touch and proprioceptive information [where our joints and body are in space] from our entire body. With this sensory information we can react appropriately to our environment. At times, it may be appropriate to respond by relaxing, digesting our food, re-oxygenating our muscles, while at other times it may be best to run for cover and hide. Each moment we make choices about how we behave, how we react to our surroundings. Without enough information these choices are often driving by a greater defensiveness, better preparation to fight or fly is required, leaving less time to rest, digest and heal.

Now picture the sensory information you get about gravity, about the angle of your walking surface, about the temperature of the ground, about the texture and stability of the surface, while you are walking bare foot on the beach as compared to walking in rigid shoes on a concrete sidewalk. Our choice of footwear and walking surfaces influences the sensory information we receive from our feet. A constant diet of low sensory stimulation from your feet can also increase your vigilance and heighten your search for information about your environment in order to keep yourself safe. Sensory information helps you distinguish a dangerous world from a safe one.

So, what can you do to improve your sensations and the accuracy and success with which you navigate your world?

One of the things a reflexology treatment does is increase the amount of sensory information available to the client’s feet. Thereby allowing the client’s system to relax and make better choices about how to respond to their environment. As can be seen by the affects of a reflexology treatment, it is not only the feet that are affected by the sensory information they receive but the whole body.

Integrative Manual Therapy, a hands on treatment approach, which addresses all systems of the body, can also influence the amount of sensory information the client is able to receive and interpret. Integrative Manual Therapy (IMT) treats structural problems, which interfere with the client’s vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch perception. There are a wide number of techniques that address the biomechanics and tissue integrity of the lower extremity—The Legs.

IMT can help decrease the compression on the gastrocnemius muscle in the calf, decrease the neural tissue tension on the common peroneal nerve to the leg muscles, improve the blood flow in the femoral artery near the groin, improve the integrity of the tarsal bones at the ankle, increase the lymph flow in the popliteal fossa in the back of the knee, and improve the flexibility of the plantar fascia in the sole of your feet. All of these things increase the clients ability to receive sensory information from their feet and respond to a variety of environmental stressors.

Reflexology Massage Improves Anxiety

In a study “to examine the effectiveness of reflexology foot massage in hospitalized cancer patients undergoing second or third chemotherapy cycles,” Italian researchers treated 15 of the 30 participants with therapeutic massage. “The subjects’ self-reports of anxiety (measured by the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory) were recorded before, after and 24 hours after the intervention.

There was an average decrease of 7.9 points on the state-anxiety scale in the treatment group and of 0.8 points decrease in the control group. Reflexology can be considered a support treatment used in combination with traditional medical treatments.”(Quattrin,2006).

Self-Foot Reflexology Improves Depression

Another study was aimed at identifying “the effects of a self-foot reflexology massage on depression, stress responses and functions of the immune system of middle-aged women.” They showed the effect of rubbing your own feet.

Forty-six middle-aged women were trained in self foot reflexology massage for 2 weeks, and then they did their own foot massage daily for six weeks (2 days at the research center, 5 days at home). “There was a statistically significant difference in depression, perceived stress, systolic blood pressure, natural-killer cells and Ig G [healthier immune system].” Researchers went on to say, “These results suggest that a self-foot reflexology massage could be utilized as an effective nursing intervention to reduce depression and stress responses, and to strengthen immune systems in middle-aged women.” (Lee,2006).

Foot Reflexology and Chemotherapy Side Effect

This study identified the effects of foot reflexology on nausea, vomiting and fatigue in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The subjects consisted of 34 patients with 18 in the experimental group and 16 in control group in a quasi-experimental design.

For the experimental group, foot reflexology, which was consisted of 4 phases for 40 minutes, was given by a researcher and 4 research assistants.

There was a statistically significant decrease in nausea, and vomiting in the experimental group compared to the control group over two different times. In addition, there was a statistically significant decrease in fatigue in the experimental group compared to the control group over two different times.

Foot reflexology can be usefully utilized as a nursing intervention in the field of cancer nursing for breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.” (Yang,2005).

There are many ways in which information can be delivered to your nervous system. Consciously work with one or two ways today.

About the Author

Kimberly Burnham, PhD uses her knowledge of the mind, body, spirit connection to support healing in people with a variety of diagnosis including brain injuries, spinal cord trauma, macular degeneration, Parkinson’s, Multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s, and autism. Her PhD is in Integrative Medicine and she is certified in Integrative Manual Therapy and Matrix Energetics. Kim is the author of the book, Consciously Harnessing the Placebo Effect, It is not what You Think, It is what You Expect.

#reflexology #integrativemedicine

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