Nici Schmidt educates us on how therapeutic reflexology treatment may help peripheral neuropathy and general tissue health for people living with diabetes.
Therapeutic reflexology is defined as an art (because the quality of the treatment depends on how skilfully the therapist applies their knowledge) and a science (because it’s based on continued training and study within various fields, such as traditional Chinese medicine, physiology and neurology).
The underlying theory behind therapeutic reflexology is that there are “reflex” areas and points on the feet, hands and ears that correspond to specific organs, glands, and body parts. The aim of reflexology is to help the body find balance and equilibrium and stimulate its innate healing potential.
Reflexologists use hand, finger, and thumb pressure techniques to systematically stimulate these reflex areas. Levels of pressure must always be within the comfort level for each patient undergoing treatment.
These pressure techniques stimulate the central nervous system (CNS) and cause the body to provide endorphins from the brain which naturally bring down stress levels and reduce the sensation of pain.
How reflexology may assist people living with diabetes?
Reflexology may help people living with diabetes in controlling insulin, blood glucose and energy levels by stimulating the bio-electrical charges from the nervous system to the important organs that are involved therein. These include the stomach, pancreas, and liver, as well as the hormonal glands. The benefits of reflexology are innumerable and periodic detoxing is vital if our bodies are to function properly.
People living with diabetes should inform their treating doctor before commencing regular reflexology treatment as the treatment may affect dosage of current medication. The medication may need to be altered accordingly. The same applies with patients with pacemakers or on blood pressure medication.
Below are signs and symptoms of peripheral tissue ailments, such as peripheral neuropathy, which is a common side effect of diabetes.
- Gradual onset of numbness, prickling or tingling in your feet or hands, which can spread upward into your legs and arms.
- Sharp, jabbing, throbbing, freezing or burning pain, and/or electrical sensations.
- Extreme sensitivity to touch.
- Lack of coordination and falling.
- Muscle weakness or paralysis if motor nerves are affected.
- Heat intolerance and altered sweating if autonomic nerves are affected.
Peripheral neuropathy can affect one nerve (mononeuropathy), two or more nerves in different areas (multiple mononeuropathy) or many nerves (polyneuropathy).
What can reflexology be used for?
Therapeutic reflexology may offer good overall support for a person suffering pain associated with peripheral neuropathy as well as chronic foot conditions that is a side effect from diabetes. These can be:
- Arthritis (in the toes, ankles, knees and other joints).
- Severe cramping, restless leg syndrome.
- Hard skin build-up, such as corns and calluses.
- Severely cracked, dry, or flaking skin on the soles of the feet, heels, and toes.
- Fungal nails.
- Eczema, skin rashes, or other inflammatory skin conditions (especially on the shins).
- Varicose veins.
Benefits of reflexology
This form of complementary therapy is found to be positively beneficial in caring for other tissues located peripherally in the feet, not only the nerve endings. Namely the skin, nails, muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones.
This is thanks primarily to the enhanced blood flow from regular therapeutic massage of the feet. Reflexology techniques help to ensure relatively richer supplies of oxygen, electrolytes, and nutrients to reach cells found in the extremities of the body more efficiently.
In particular, these nutrients include magnesium, vitamin D and some of the B vitamins, moisturising lipid fats, and other building blocks, needed specially for the nerves and general tissue health.
The goal of treatment is also to aid related organ and hormonal systems, in regulating essential minerals, such as calcium, usage and distribution in the body, as well as balancing the body’s use of electrolytes.
Another benefit when receiving regular treatments is that one can be made more aware of any new loss of feeling or extra sensitivity that may not have been noticed before. It’s always good to have an ‘extra pair of eyes and hands’ monitoring the feet.
Therapeutic reflexology is holistically aimed at treating the autonomic nervous system whose job it is to oversee these kinds of physiological functions. Regular sessions can also support in helping to clear the feet more readily of waste products, heavy metals, lactic acid build-up and calcium deposits derived from high acidity and problems with glucose metabolism that usually occur in people living with Type 2 diabetes.
What to expect during a reflexology session?
During the session, usually lasting 30-60 minutes in duration, the patient may experience sensitivity in certain reflex areas, which may vary from treatment to treatment. The therapeutic reflexologist usually completes the treatment by using gentle massage techniques which will leave the patient relaxed and soothed, thus enhancing the body’s capacity to utilise its natural healing potential. The therapist will devise a treatment plan and recommendations based on each individual patient.
Safety and side effects
Generally, reflexology appears to be safe and does not cause serious side effects. Because most people feel relaxed after a treatment you might feel a bit light-headed. Some people say their feet feel more tender afterwards. Others can have an emotional response or need to pass urine more often.
Tell your reflexologist about any after-effects that you have. Reflexology cannot be used as a primary procedure intended for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition or disease.
Ask your doctor
Reflexology isn’t contra-indicated for any condition, although caution is to be taken if you have any of the below conditions. So, check with your doctor before.
- A low platelet count, which means you may bruise or bleed more easily.
- Tumours and metastases.
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Broken/fractured bones (in the feet or ankles)
- Circulatory problems of the feet
- Inflammation or blood clots in the leg veins
- Foot ulcers
- Fungal conditions of the feet, such as Athlete’s foot.
- Thyroid problems
- Type 2 diabetes
To find a registered therapeutic reflexologist, visit sareflexology.org.za
MEET THE EXPERT
Registered therapeutic reflexologist, Nicolette Da Costa-Schmidt (Nici Schmidt), has a passion for her field of Therapeutic Reflexology and Meridian Therapy. She has been in practice for 15 years and is based in the East Rand, Gauteng. Visit healthspots.co.za.