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The Healing Benefits of Firm Pressure in Reflexology

Applying focussed pressure to the solar plexus reflexology point on the foot in a treatment room setting

Are you uncertain about the right amount of pressure for a reflexology session to be truly effective? The answer lies in understanding the dynamics of pressure and its impact on the healing benefits of this therapeutic practice.

How much pressure should be used for reflexology to be effective?

How hard a reflexologist should press will vary on different reflexology points. A good reflexologist will be continuously assessing the feedback they get through touch on the client's feet or hands, the client's body language, facial expressions and verbal cues. When I would travel 2 hours to receive my firm pressure reflexology sessions in Chinatown, there was often a language barrier between me and my reflexologist and many of those sessions had me practicing my breathing and relaxation techniques to intentionally soften my body while they worked out an area of tension and imbalance that they found in my feet corresponding to an area of my body. It was a lot! However, those sessions were so effective at healing my body. I recall one of my first experiences having a firm pressure reflexology session days before my expected menstrual period and then laughing because I was so pleased at the lack of pain and healthier flow I experienced.

Reflexology is a focused pressure technique. In general, a reflexologist should aim to offer 10-15 lbs of pressure while working on the various points on the feet. Press with your fingers or thumb on a scale to get an idea of how much pressure that is. For newer reflexologists you may find that it is as much pressure as you can give. If 10lbs of pressure is too much on a given point because it causes the client discomfort that causes them to tense their leg or hold their breath you can always decrease the pressure that allows them to remain relaxed while still receiving enough pressure to stimulate this area of imbalance. When pressure needs to be decreased, we can spend more time on an area instead or gradually increase pressure over a number of sessions. Some clients (like myself) may prefer the firm pressure even if it is quite uncomfortable because they want the healing benefit.

First reflexology sessions can feel the most tender but as the body works towards balance, clients will be able to tolerate more and more pressure.

Should reflexology hurt?

Pressure points or areas on the feet or hands that are tender indicate that the corresponding area of the body is out of balance or needs support. It could be an area of the back that is tense, kidney stones, an area of the body that previously had surgery like a hysterectomy or something else. When we apply pressure to the points that are relative to these out of balance areas, they may feel quite tender or "crunchy" (like salt rocks in the tissues). When we find these areas, it is beneficial to give them extra time and/or pressure to promote healing and balance in that area of the body. What a client experiences may range from very little sensation to a very sensitive and tender discomfort that some people would describe as painful. We can always decrease pressure to work within an individual client's pain threshold. Some clients tolerate a lot of pressure even if it is temporarily uncomfortable (no pain, no gain philosophy) while other client's would be very unhappy with the same kind of pressure and discomfort. Client communication is very important. Any discomfort experienced during a reflexology session should always be temporary and only last as long as pressure is being applied. The benefit comes after the session when areas of the body such as shoulders, back, hips, knees etc. that were previously experiencing pain or tension should now be pain free or at least experiencing a highly decreased level of pain.

Some reflexologists feel that light touch reflexology can have the same or more healing benefit. This has not been my experience as a reflexologist or a client. When my clients arrive in a lot of pain from an old injury or issue in their body, I have never been able to get a healing response or provide relief without spending a lot of time and delivering a good amount of pressure to the corresponding points on their feet.

Reflexology and kidney stones

A client came weekly for reflexology sessions. The area of one of his feet relative to the kidney on that side of his body continued to feel hard like a rock session after session for as long as I had seen him with no change over time. One session I asked for his consent to increase the amount of pressure I normally used on this area of his foot. He was quite uncomfortable while I held my knuckle there, giving him breaks of relief with relaxing solar plexus point pressure in between. He had never had symptoms or diagnosis of kidney stones but that night, he passed one, much to both of our surprise. Future sessions found that area of his foot to be healthy and fleshy again with no tenderness in the area.

Decreased sensation in the extremities

If a client has decreased sensation due to pain medications, diabetes or for any other reason, it may be wise for a reflexologist to decrease the amount of pressure during a session because of the client's lack of sensation that serves as feedback for both client and reflexologist about the pressure used and the condition of the feet.

Busy reflexologists use firm pressure

A reflexologist that has the ability to offer a good, firm reflexology session is in my experience going to be a busy reflexologist. The truth is, our feet endure a lot of pressure in our day to day life and the tissues of the feet can take a lot of pressure. The body responds to a lot of pressure when delivered in a way that is tolerable and can still promote relaxation in a reflexology session. Clients generally enjoy deepening their awareness of their body through tender reflexology points and a knowing that their session is promoting healing in these out of balance areas. If no points feel tender or crunchy due to a lack of pressure, clients may question the efficacy of their session or the ability of the reflexologist to promote a healing response in their body.

The main goal of a reflexology session is to induce a parasympathetic state, also known as rest and heal. If a session keeps a client in a state of fight or flight because it is too painful, it's not going to be very healing and a client isn't likely to return. But if a client receives too little pressure that they don't feel much sensation in the feet or experience the healing in their body that they came for, a light touch foot rub is not likely to bring back the return clients or word of mouth referrals. The amount of pressure offered in a reflexology session should be as much as a client can tolerate while still being able to enjoy their session and relax deeply. Some pain is normal as focussed pressure on areas relative to imbalances in the body manifest as quite sensitive and tender. Focussed pressure is what promotes a healing response in the body. Most important is good communication between client and reflexologist. At any time during a reflexology session a reflexologist can ask a client if they would prefer more or less pressure, including when a point is tender and work within the comfort level of the client for an enjoyable and beneficial session.

What are your thoughts or experiences about reflexology and light or firm pressure? What kinds of reflexology sessions do you enjoy receiving the most or what kinds of healing experiences have you had after your reflexology sessions? Learn more about our reflexology training course options.


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