This article is from the Alternative Medicine Therapies guide.
Exactly how reflexology works remains unclear, although several possible explanations have been put forward. One is that the body contains an invisible life force, or subtle energy, similar to the concept of qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine. When this energy is blocked, illness can result. The nervous system provides a "keyboard" to access, control, and release the subtle energy patterns. It is thought that stimulating some of the more than 7,000 nerve endings on the foot can unblock and increase the flow of this vital energy to various parts of the body and thus promote healing. The reflexology theory is consistent with the theory behind acupuncture and acupressure, in which mapped points on body parts such as the ear or hand are treated to affect corresponding remote organs or body zones.
A more conventional medical theory suggests that the pressure exerted by reflexologists releases nerve transmitter chemicals such as endorphins and monoamines, compounds that control pain.