What is the difference between reflexology and massage?

(Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Edward B. of Charlotte, N.C.)

(Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Edward B. of Charlotte, N.C.)

Reflexology, although it's often combined with massage, is technically not a form of massage. It's a separate practice that applies pressure to reflex zones on your feet, hands or outer ears to affect your entire body.

What's a reflex zone? Simply, it's an area connected to other parts of your body. You have reflex zones on your feet, hands and ears. The basic theory underlying applying pressure to reflex zones is that the pressure affects the nerves, which then carry signals to other parts of your body. Reported benefits include relaxation and improved lymphatic drainage and blood circulation. These benefits help relieve the effects of stress, which in turn helps your body find balance and heal itself.

How does that differ from massage? Many of the benefits are the same. However, massage is the manipulation of soft tissue, while applying pressure to reflex zones isn't an attempt to manipulate soft tissue. Also, reflexologists who aren't also massage therapist are limited to touching your feet, hands and ears.

Massage therapist or reflexologist?

Although some massage therapists have a basic working knowledge of reflex zones and use it in their massage practice, foot or hand massage isn't necessarily using reflex zones. Many styles of massage include foot or hand massage techniques not related to reflex zones.

Reflexologists specialize. A reflexologist may also be a massage therapist, but some reflexologists are not. A session from a reflexologist typically lasts from 30 to 60 minutes, and you only need to remove your shoes and socks for foot reflex work.

Who do you want to see? It depends on what you're looking for. Do you specifically want reflex zone work or do you just want a little reflex zone work mixed in with an overall massage? Both options are perfectly valid.

Finding a qualified reflexologist

Some states include reflexologists in massage licensing laws, meaning that anyone who offers reflexology must have a massage license, even if the person doesn't offer massage. A few states recognize and regulate reflexologists as a separate profession, while other states have no regulation.

If you want to be sure potential reflexologists are practicing legally, you'll need to check your state's laws. And laws change. For example, in Washington state, until 2002, reflexologists were required to have a massage license. Then the law changed and didn't regulate reflexologists. Then, in July 2013, a new law took effect that requires reflexologists who don't have a massage license to be certified by the state by having at least 200 hours of training and passing an exam.

You can also ask potential reflexologists about other certifications. Optional national certification (not related to states) for reflexologists is available through the American Reflexology Certification Board, which offers separate foot and hand certification exams. Applicants to take an exam must have at least 110 hours of hands-on training.

Beyond possible licensing and certification, ask potential reflexologists about their training and experience. You might also ask if they belong to any professional associations. Be aware that some spas advertise reflexology but you're really getting a foot massage from someone who's not a trained reflexologist. Also, remember to check Angie's List for top-rated reflexologists in your area.


Push on a part of your foot and somehow a "message" is sent to your liver to make it better? Why would the body be this way? Doesn't make sense to me. Seems to be a placebo effect as it does not seem to work in well designed clinical trials.

Add comment


What is Angie's List?

Angie’s List is the trusted site where more than 3 million households go to get ratings and reviews on everything from home repair to health care. Stop guessing when it comes to hiring! Check Angie’s List to find out who does the best work in town.

Local Discounts

Daily deals up to 70% off popular home improvement projects from top-rated contractors on Angie’s List!