Reflexology Association of America
 

Report: Definitions of Reflexology

In order to have a unified profession we must seek to establish a unified definition to which most reflexologists can subscribe. A definition by RAA must be as broad as feasible, to allow as many reflexologists as possible to subscribe to it, without being too general as to be meaningless. However, in creating a universal definition several issues need to be kept in mind. 

  1. With the best of intent, many reflexologists sometimes want to put as much as possible into a definition. Many people confuse a definition (which defines the word, or what is meant by the word Reflexology) with a scope of practice (what part of the body we work on), the theory (how it is believed to work), the application of techniques (the techniques used and how applied), its history or origin, it’s results or benefits (how it is going to help people). Actually, science and other professions do not care how Reflexology feels or that our clients like it.
  2. There is no one definition that will work in all situations. Legal and legislative language is different from what the public uses, which is different from what reflexologists use amongst themselves in the field, which is different from the definition other professions use to identify us, which is still different than insurance usage, etc.
  3. A key may be to have a sentence to which a majority agree to honor and then a second sentence, dictated by the situation in which it will be used, added.  

In looking towards a definition we can ask ourselves what are the unique components of Reflexology which distinguish it from other modalities. Two components unique to Reflexology are:  

1.      A Reflex Map of a body that is touched; and

2.      Touch Techniques Unique to Reflexology

 

Let’s take a little closer look at these two concepts.  

1. A Reflex Map that is touched. Exclude the map, and it could be any number of modalities:

a. Massage or other body work disciplines

b. Meridians and Traditional Chinese Medicine including acupressure

c. Any light, brushing, and/or energetic techniques like Reiki.

e. And other systems specific to either feet, hands, or ears, but not map related, like Polarity. 

2.      Touch Techniques Unique to Reflexology. Exclude specific touch techniques and it could be any number of other modalities:

a. Massage or a foot rub

b. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation

c. Physical Therapy or sensory stimulation of the hands or feet

d. Auriculo Therapy - medical use of implements, diagnosis, treatment of via the ears

e. Acupuncture

f. Reflexognosy

g. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching

h. Joint manipulation of the hands and feet

i. Postural integration of the hands and feet

j. Polarity

k. And other specific ways of touching the feet, hands, and ears

RAA’s original definition of Reflexology 

RAA’s original definition of Reflexology was: 

Reflexology is a science based on the premise that there are zones and reflex areas in the feet and hands which correspond to all glands, organs, parts and systems of the body. The physical act of applying pressure using thumb, finger and hand techniques to these reflex areas results in the reduction of stress which promotes physiological changes in the body. 

However, a better definition distinguishing reflexology from acupressure is: 

Reflexology is the application of specific pressure by the use of the practitioner’s hand, thumb and fingers to a reflex map resembling a human body which is believed to exist on the extremities. 

This definition deletes the description of techniques (which really are not important in a law) and describes more the theoretical basis. It also stays away from massage, but leaves room for those reflexologists who want to work from the knee down, and doesn’t address the ears directly, or on the feet, hands, and outer ears could be used instead of ‘extremities’. 

The latest definition adopted by RAA (5/8/03) is: 

Reflexology is the systematic, manual stimulation of the reflex maps located on the feet, hands and outer ears that resembles a shape of the human body. 

Below are other definitions used within the field, including legal ones used in legislated law. 

American Reflexology Certification Board 

The First ARCB definition: 

Foot and hand reflexology is a scientific art based on the premise that there are zones and reflex areas in the feet and hands which correspond to all body parts. The physical act of applying specific pressures using thumb, finger and hand techniques result in stress reduction which causes a physiological change in the body. 

To gain an exemption in North Carolina the definition had to fit under he practice of specifically intending to affect the human energy field. With that in mind the ARCB wrote the following definition of Reflexology in 2001: 

Reflexology is a wholistic energy-based modality, working through the energies of the nervous, electrical, chemical and magnetic systems of the body. It utilizes manual techniques unique to the field of Reflexology. These techniques are applied to reflex maps resembling the human body, which are believed to exist on the feet and hands. 

(Note: Only the feet and hand are mentioned in the above because that is most standard in the field.)  

ARCB definition forwarded to Alternative Link (the insurance company developing insurance billing codes—called alternative billing codes or ABC—for alternative therapies under which reflexologists and other will be able to bill for their services) in September 2003 was: 

Reflexology is a wholistic discipline using the hands to apply alternating and firm pressures to the feet, hands or ears to stimulate physiological changes in the body through reflexes and the nervous system.  

As one can see there is no one definition that will work in all situations and yet, because of the multi dimensional affect of Reflexology all are true at defining the work we do. 

ACARET (American Commission for Accreditation of Reflexology Education and Training) Definition 

Reflexology is a manual technique on specific reflex points on specific zones within main microcosms on the body (i.e. feet, hands and ears). This brings about psychological and physiological normalization of the total body. 

Legal Definitions of Reflexology 

North Dakota State Reflexology Law (Chapter 43-49-01) 

Reflexology is the application of specific pressure by the use of the practitioner’s hands, thumb, and fingers to reflex points in the client’s hands, feet, or ears using alternating pressure, and such techniques as thumb walking, finger walking, hook and back up, and rotation on a reflex. 

Tennessee State Reflexology Law (Chapter 63-30-102.6) 

Reflexology means the application of specific pressures to reflex points in the hands and feet only. 

Henderson, Nevada Municipal Reflexology Code (4.06.1926)

(This is very similar to the definition used in the Las Vegas, Clark County Ordinance) 

Reflexology is the application of specific pressure by the use of the practitioner’s hands, thumb, and fingers to reflex points in the client’s hands, feet, or ears using alternating pressure, and such techniques as thumb walking, finger walking, hook and back up, and rotation on a reflex. 

Definitions which Exempt Reflexology from State Massage Laws 

Here are several legal definitions of Reflexology that have successfully been used in legislation to indicate Reflexology is difference from Massage Therapy and therefore exempt from the Massage Law.  

Exemption from Maine State Law (Chapter 403-14307.2) 

This chapter does not apply to the activities and services of individuals who practice other forms of tissue work exclusive of massage therapy, such as … reflexology..., if those practitioners do not use the title ‘massage therapist,’ unless they choose to meet the requirements of this chapter. 

Exemption from Washington D.C. Massage Ordinance 

Manipulation of soft tissue limited to feet and hands is not massage. 

Exemption from the Missouri Massage Law 

If practice is restricted to hands, feet or ears, exempt.  

Exemption from the New Mexico  

Massage therapy does not apply to…foot and hand reflexology (without the use of creams, oils or mechanical tools) [This wording was in the massage law and later, in the same law, was repealed. An exemption, under healers, currently within the Rules and Regulation of the Massage Board defines reflexology as limited to hands, feet and ears.]  

Exemption from Washington State Massage Law 

For purposes of this chapter, the practice of reflexology is limited to the hands, feet and outer ears. The services provided by those who limit their practice to reflexology are not designated or implied to be massage or massage therapy.

Exemption from the Illinois Massage law 

Practitioners of other forms of bodywork who restrict manipulation of soft tissue to the feet, hands, and ears, and who do not have the client disrobe, such as reflexology, are exempt from this Act.  

Exemption based on the Human Energy Field 

In 2000 in North Carolina and Maryland Reflexology became exempt when defined as having an energy base, that is working within the human energy field. 

Exemption from the Maryland State Massage Law 

The practice of techniques executed with the recipient fully clothed which are specifically intended to affect the human energy field, including but not limited to…d. Reflexology… 

Exemption from the North Carolina Massage Law 

Another Definition used in some Legislative Position Papers 

Reflexology is the application of pressure through specific techniques with the thumbs and fingers to the feet and hands to bring the body into balance thus promoting well-being. 

Medical Definitions 

There are as many definitions to explain reflexology as there are reflexologists.  The word originally had a medical definition.  Edwin Boring writes in his book, A History of Experimental Psychology, that Russian psychologist V.M.  Bekterev (1857-1927) used the term objective psychology to designate his work but later in 1917 he coined the name reflexology to explain his work in the field of psychology. Therefore, if one consults a medical dictionary it will usually be noted the word is of Russian origin and means the study of behavior as consisting of reflexes.  Below are some other definitions from medical dictionaries. 

Reflexology: 1. The analysis of motor behavior in terms of component simple and complex reflexes.  2. The study of the neurophysiologic mechanisms of reflexes in general... International Dictionary of Medicine and Biology, 1986. 

Reflexology: the science or study of reflexes... Stedman's Medical Dictionary, 1930. 

Reflexology: 1. The study and interpretation of behavior in terms of simple and complex reflexes. 2. Any of various systems of questionable effectiveness that are held by their promoters to restore or promote health by manipulating parts of the body and especially the hands or feet...Webster's Medical Desk Dictionary, 1986. 

Reflexology: 1. A system of massaging specific areas of the foot or sometimes the hand in order to promote healing, relieve stress, etc., in other parts of the body.  2. Medically, the study of reflex movements and processes... Random House Dictionary, 1987. 

Reflexotherapy: Therapeutic effect achieved by stimulation or irritation at a distance from the area treated...International Dictionary of Medicine and Biology, 1986. 

Examples of Other Definitions 

From American Academy of Reflexology web site:  Reflexology is the study, science and art of applying touch, with techniques that are unique to reflexology, to the feet, hands and outer ears, where theory suggests there are pressure maps that resemble a shape of the human body. By working on these reflexology body maps, people report feeling better all over their bodies.  

International Institute of Reflexology: Reflexology is a science that deals with the principle that there are reflexes in the feet and hands which correspond to all of the glands, organs and parts of the body. Reflexology is a unique method of using the thumb and fingers on these reflex areas.

Conclusion 

Definitions found through a literature review of the 50+ books on Reflexology could be added to the list, but there is already plenty of definition in this collection. Again one can see there is no single definition that will work in all situations and yet, because of the multi dimensional affect of Reflexology all are true at defining the work we do. The simplistic RAA definition that, Reflexology is the systematic, manual stimulation of the reflex maps located on the feet, hands and outer ears that resembles a shape of the human body, allows the individual to add a second sentence of their choice to further define Reflexology. 

Prepared by Christine Issel
for the
Reflexology Association of America

May 2003
InfoRAA@reflexology-usa.org