Hand Reflexology: The Ultimate Guide to Hand Reflexology

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What is hand reflexology? Hand Reflexology is a ancient healing technique, and a form of touch therapy that applies pressure on specific areas on the hands. Practitioners believe the body is an interconnection of reflex points that correspond to different organs and body parts. Various combinations of finger and thumb techniques are used on specific reflex points in the hand to bring stress and pain relief.

Background History

Reflexology was first introduced to the American medical community by Dr. William Fitzgerald between the years 1915 to 1917.  

Dr. Fitzgerald believed that the body is divided into ten vertical zones running from the head all the way down to the foot. In 1917 he wrote, “Zone Therapy or Relieving Pain in the Home.”

In the book, he describes how each zone corresponds to a particular organ.

Applying pressure on the zones that correspond to an area of the body that has an injury will bring relief.

Dr. Fitzgerald’s work earned him the title “father of reflexology.”

Dr. Joe Shelby Riley was a believer in Fitzgerald's work and brought Zone Reflex, as the treatment was then known, to the American mainstream.

Dr. Riley added horizontal zones across the body and created a map of reflex points in the feet and the hands.

Dr. Reily’s work on Zone Therapy was furthered by Eunice Ingham, a physiotherapist working with him.

Ms. Ingham researched on pressure points noted in Dr. Riley’s work and realized the foot to have the most sensitive and responsive reflex points.

She came up with her own foot and hand reflexology charts and details the zones and the areas of the body it connects to.

Her reflexology charts are still widely used and sold today.

Eunice Ingham wrote a book, “Stories The Feet Can Tell,” which made reflexology available to more people outside of the medical community.

Her work has been carried on by her nephew Dwight Byers and her pioneering reflexology training is available at the International Reflexology Institute in Florida.

Mildred Carter trained under Eunice Ingham and released the first book on hand reflexology,  “Hand Reflexology: Key to Perfect Health” in 1975.

Mildred Carter has released other books on hand and foot reflexology which has opened doors for other self-help books to be published in the market.

The Origins Of Reflexology​

There has been some confusion regarding the origins of reflexology.

William Fitzgerald has not made any mentions of where his Zone Therapy was based on or if he had any Asian influences.

The American Academy of Reflexology and other sources have stressed reflexology was the work and discovery of three medical doctors - Doctors William Fitzgerald and Joe Shelby Riley of the United States, and Dr. Paul Nogier of France.

Some practitioners believe reflexology has its roots in Chinese and Egyptian healing practices.

The claims are based on the traditional Chinese practice of acupressure and how applying pressure on these points help to clear out blockages to ensure the chi flows throughout the body.

The Taoist belief of chi and its influence on a person’s health can be traced to about 5,000 years ago.

The Egyptian connection has been linked to a hieroglyphic mural found in a pyramid in Saqqara called the Tomb of Ankhmahor.

It is also referred to as “Physician’s Tomb” because of the medical instruments and murals featuring surgical and healing treatments found inside.  

The hieroglyphic mural--dating from 2,500 years ago-- shown below depicts 2 men getting massage treatments done on their hands and feet.

Arguments have been raised against claims that reflexology is rooted in Chinese traditional medicine or other ancient practices.

Sides have been taken by those who believe it is and by those that deny the claim.

There are no clearcut answers yet but what can not be denied are the anecdotal evidence of reflexology helping many people with their pains.

Reflexology has helped them manage their health concerns without the aid of medication and in a non-invasive manner.

The Difference Between Reflexology and Acupressure

The traditional Chinese medicine method of acupressure has strong similarities with the belief of manipulating pressure points to bring relief to areas in the body where there may be life force or energy imbalances.

With reflexology, the emphasis is on relieving stress and tension so it does not harm the body.

In contrast, acupressure is concerned with unblocking stagnant chi in the body and restoring its flow to avoid its manifesting as an illness.

Acupressure relies on a system of energy lines called meridians which run the length of the body.

In Chinese Taoist belief, there are 14 meridians with 800 pressure points scattered throughout those lines.

Interestingly, the hands and feet only have 30 pressure points and one meridian point on the bottom of the feet.

Reflexology, on the other hand,  has reflex maps for the feet, hands, and even the ears which corresponds to organs and body parts.

Reflex maps do not necessarily match meridian points used in acupressure.

Bill Flocco, a leading proponent of hand and foot reflexology, describes reflex maps as complex and a homunculus or resembling the human body.

The Difference Between Reflexology and ​Acupuncture

The main difference between Korean hand acupuncture and American hand reflexology lies is the differing hand microsystems used.

A microsystem links small well-defined areas of the body, such as the ear, hand and foot and ear, to all organs and parts of the body.

Reflexologists and acupuncturists believe stimulating the areas in these microsystems may help improve various health ailments and symptoms.

Below is an example of the Korean hand acupuncture microsystem.

korean hand acupuncture chart

Korean hand acupuncture was created by Dr. Tae-Woo Yoo in 1971.

Also known as Korean Hand Therapy, the system has 14 acupuncture meridians and 404 points identified on the hands.

Dr. William Fitzgerald is credited with being father of modern reflexology. He purported that the body was divided into ten vertical zones or reflexes.

The presumption is that stimulating specific reflexes activates a parasympathetic response that causes a physiological change in the body that clears blockages in the corresponding zone.

What Are The Benefits of Hand Reflexology?

It is important to note that hand reflexology is not a cure but a modality of touch therapy to complement traditional medical treatments.

Reflexology aims to relieve stress as prolonged exposure to stress causes the body to lower its immune defenses.

By lowering stress the body is able to repair environmental damage and defend itself against illnesses.

Another benefit of reflexology is its high level of safety.

There are no medicines or drugs to take for the treatment to work.

Treatments can be done as often as the patient needs it.

The procedure can also be done anywhere and requires no special equipment.

Here are some more general benefits that cover physical, emotional, and spiritual levels.

  • Reduces pain, which is a  stressor that indicates an underlying health concern
  • Creates a feeling of wellness and improves the mood
  • Promotes relaxation enabling the body to lower stress and manage it to not affect the body negatively
  • Stimulates the release of the body’s happy hormones - serotonin for sleep, endorphins for pain, dopamine for alertness,  and oxytocin for comfort
  • Keeps the body flexible and increases the range of movement
  • Improves the overall circulation of the blood leading to greater oxygen and nutrient supply to the body
  • Increases detoxification of the body which improves organ and gland function
  • Supports the recovery process of injuries to the hands and feet

Hand Reflexology Chart

The hand chart below shows in detail the different reflex points for the various parts of the body and is based on the Zone Therapy and Ingham Method.

The body parts and organs follow how it is positioned in the human body - going from the top of the head to the organs in the torso.

Certain body parts may seem out of place in the order of things as with the spinal column which is along the edge of the hand below the thumb.

Another point to remember is the reflex points on the right hand corresponds to the left side of the body and vice versa.

(Source: Beauty Express)

How To Perform A Hand Reflexology Massage (On Yourself Or Someone Else)

Here are basic steps to doing a hand reflexology massage.

  1. Make sure to wash your hands to avoid skin irritations or transfer of infections.
  • Use massage oils or lotion for easier and smoother manipulation of the fingers and hands.
  • Use consistent pressure in a circular motion for 3 to 5 seconds before moving to another area.
  • Refer to the reflexology hand chart for reference to the body part or area you would like to focus on.
  1. Start by rubbing your thumb on your palm in wide circles starting from the center of the palm and working your way to the edges. Using a straight motion, rub your thumb pad starting from the knuckles all the way to the wrist. Use light pressure as this move is to help you relax.
  1. Grasp a finger and rotate at the joint in a counter-clockwise motion. Do this for all the fingers.
  1. Activate your hand pressure points by pressing the ends of each finger between a thumb and forefinger.
  1. With your thumb and forefinger, rub counter-clockwise circles starting at the base of each finger all the way to the tip.
  1. Use gentle pressure to rub all over the palm, the pads of the fingers, and the back of the hand working your way down to the wrist.
  1. Drink water after each hand reflexology session to aid in expelling the wastes and toxins in your system.

Hand Reflexology For Various Conditions

Below are some specific ailments where reflexology may be applied. Remember to use controlled, even pressure on all pressure points.

It is also good to alternate movements - crawling your thumb with steady pressure, and using small circular motions as you massage and apply pressure.

Don’t forget to flex the fingers in the hand you use for massaging your pressure points to avoid cramping.

Refer to the reflexology hand chart in the previous section to help you locate the pressure point you are targeting.

Most importantly, stop when you feel pain and seek medical attention. These treatments are to soothe and give relief.

Reflexology is not a cure and should not be used as a basis for diagnosing illnesses.

Hand Reflexology For Relief Of Tension Headaches

For tension headaches, target the solar plexus reflex, the spinal column reflex, and the pituitary gland, and the eye reflex. Refer to the reflexology chart about to locate the correct pressure point.

Apply pressure using a thumb crawling motion and circular movements on the reflex points.

Start with relaxing the body by working 7 to 10 circular motions with your opposite thumb on the solar plexus reflex, just under the ball of the middle finger.

Do the other hand as well.

Next, thumb crawl your thumb on the opposite hand using even pressure on your spinal column reflex on the side of your palm.

Start at the base of your wrist and continue all the way to the top of your thumb. Do this 4 times for each hand.

Follow this up by applying pressure on the middle part of the thumb, the pituitary reflex.

Use your opposite thumb and press firmly 7 to 10 times for each thumb pad.

Massage all over the thumb starting from the knuckle going to the top of the thumb and going around the sides, the pads, and the nail bed with quick thumb movements.

Do this for both thumbs.

Finally, ease the tiredness from your eyes by pressing on the fleshy part of the balls of the pinkie and ring finger.

Use thumb crawling motions and make 4 passes over these two reflex points. 

Do this for both hands.

Hand Reflexology For Sleep

For better quality of sleep target the solar plexus reflex, the pituitary and pineal glands reflex. The neck reflex, the shoulder reflex, and the spinal column reflex. 

Applying pressure to the pituitary glands helps to keep hormone levels balanced while the pineal gland will help to release melatonin, the hormone that helps to regulate the sleep cycle.

Massaging the solar plexus and the head reflex helps the body to calm down by regulating breathing.

While relaxing the spine, neck, and shoulders will avoid discomfort when stiff muscles and points are slept on leading to stiff necks or frozen shoulders.

Start with pressing on the solar plexus reflex with a circular motion.

Take 3 slow, deep breaths through your nose and exhaling from your mouth, increasing the pressure as you inhale.

Use the thumb walking technique to massage the head reflex at the tip of the thumb to thumb crease where the neck reflex is located. Do three passes for each thumb.

Balance the sleep hormones the pineal gland releases by applying deep pressure on the fleshy pad of the thumb. Use a knuckle to massage the reflex in three deep passes for both thumbs.

Continue the massage by thumb walking the crease on the opposite thumb’s knuckle to release neck tension.  

Relax the shoulders by rubbing your forefinger between the gap in the knuckles of the pinkie and ring finger on the backs of both hands.

Ease the spine by using thumb crawling movements on your opposite thumb with even pressure on the spinal column reflex on the side of your palm.

Start at the top of your thumb and continue down to the base of the wrist. Do this 3 times for each hand.

Finish off by sweeping your thumb 3 times on the solar plexus reflex, then grasping each finger at the base and gently rotating with pulling motions.

Close the session by pressing on the solar plexus reflex with a circular motion.

Take 3 slow, deep breaths through your nose and exhaling from your mouth, increasing the pressure as you inhale.

Hand Reflexology For Neck Pain

For neck pain target the neck and spinal column reflexes, and apply pressure on the space just under the crease of the thumb knuckle and up to the ball of the thumb joint, and the side of the hand starting from the thumb joint all the way to the wrist bone.

Massage the neck reflex by using the thumb crawling technique and applying even pressure and moving across the crease of the other thumb.

Work the area by going around the thumb, front to back 10 times for each thumb.

Next, work on the spinal column reflex by pressing on the reflex point on the side of the thumb all the way to the wrist bone and going across the wrist.

Do this 5 times for each hand.

Work on the neck again by thumb walking and applying even pressure from the crease of the thumb knuckle to the joint.

Do 5 for each thumb. Finish off by sweeping your thumb 3 to 4 times on the top and sides of the opposite thumb going from the joint to the nail.

Close the session by placing your forefinger on the gap between the forefinger and the middle finger of the other hand.

Continue pressing as you slowly rotate your head from one side to the other. Do this for at least a minute.  Switch hands to press on the other hand and repeat the movements.

Hand Reflexology For The Sinus

For inflamed sinuses and colds target the pads of the fingers and the thumbs for the head and brain reflex, and the fingertips for the sinuses. 

Applying pressure to these areas will decongest the nasal passages and bring relief from sinusitis.

Start by pinching and releasing the pads of your fingers between your thumb and forefinger. Do this 3 to 4 times for each finger and repeat on the other hand.

Use your forefinger to press the tips of each finger 3 to 4 times. Begin with your thumb working your way to the pinkie and repeat on the other hand.

Hand Reflexology For Earaches, Tinnitus, and Congestion

Perform the basic reflexology steps starting with step number 2 up to 5. Refer to the chart to locate your targeted pressure point. 

For inflamed earaches, a ringing or blocked feeling in your ears like you blew your nose too hard, and congestion target the ear reflex on the fleshy part of the pinkie and ring finger.

Applying pressure to these areas will clear the ringing in your ears and ease earaches.

Find your ear reflex points just under the ball of the joint of the pinkie finger and using small circular motions, apply steady pressure in 3 to 4 passes.

Work toward a bigger circle going around the ball of the finger joint. Do this 7 to 10 times alternating in clockwise and counter-clockwise directions.

Finish off by pinching with your thumb and forefinger and sliding the thumb to the side in 3 to 4 passes. Repeat 2 to 3 times for each hand.

Hand Reflexology For Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Perform the basic reflexology steps starting with step number 2 up to 5. Refer to the chart to locate your targeted pressure point. 

For anxiety and panic attacks target the brain reflex by focusing on the thumbs, the diaphragm reflex on the balls of your hands, the solar plexus reflex just under the ball of the middle finger, and the adrenals just off the center of the palm.  

Start by crawling your thumb around the side of the thumbnail working your way across the top of the thumb to the other side of the thumbnail. Repeat 3 times and finish off by applying pressure on the tip.

Thumb crawl the reflex at the balls of your hand from pinkie to forefinger 3 times to regulate breathing.

Apply steady circular motions on the center of the palm for 30 seconds to continue relaxing your breathing.

Finish off by pinching the fleshy part between the thumb and forefinger using your other hand’s thumb and forefinger to fight the body’s adrenaline rush.

Repeat on the other hand as well.

Hand Reflexology For Better Digestion

For digestion and stomach upsets, target the solar plexus reflex to help calm the body, the stomach and intestines reflex point on the palms of the hands, and the spinal column reflex along the edge of the palm along the thumb.

Rest your hand on a flat surface palm side down. With your other hand use your palm to stroke the hand from fingertips to elbow. Do three passes for this.

Turn your hand palm side up and use the thumb of your other hand to draw half circles across the palm to release tension. The wrist may be included in this move. Do this in three passes.

Apply pressure to the solar plexus reflex with a circular motion with your thumb.

Take 3 slow, deep breaths through your nose and exhale from your mouth, increasing the pressure as you inhale.

Press on the stomach reflex on the fleshy part of the vee between the thumb and forefinger.

Thumb walk using small movements from the reflex point to the base of the thumb. Slide back to the reflex point and repeat the move in 3 passes.

Work the small intestine reflex at the heel of the palm with 2 or 3 knuckles. Use small clawing movements to massage the reflex. Make 3 passes for this move.

Repeat the move on the same area but this time, use a sweeping clockwise motion which mimics the large intestine’s movements.

Ease the spine by using thumb crawling movements on your opposite thumb with even pressure on the spinal column reflex on the side of your palm.

Start at the top of your thumb and continue down to the base of the wrist. Do this 3 times for each hand.

Finish off by sweeping your thumb  3 times on the solar plexus reflex, then grasping each finger at the base and gently rotating with pulling motions.

Close the session by pressing on the solar plexus reflex with a circular motion.

Take 3 slow, deep breaths through your nose and exhaling from your mouth, increasing the pressure as you inhale.

Hand Reflexology For Fertility

Perform the basic reflexology steps starting with step number 2 up to 5. Refer to the chart to locate your targeted pressure point.

For increasing your chances of conceiving target the wrist reflex which is connected to the uterus, the ovaries, the prostate, and the testes.

The pituitary and pineal glands reflex should also be paid attention to. The pituitary gland is known as the “master gland” and massaging the reflex points helps to balance out the hormones the body releases which will help with conception.

Start with making a circle with your thumb and middle finger around your other wrist. Rotate your wrist 7 to 10 times to stimulate the organs necessary for conception.

Repeat on the other wrist as well.

Applying pressure to the pituitary glands helps to keep hormone levels balanced in the body to help regulate your fertility cycle.

Using your forefinger knuckle, press on to the fleshy part of your thumb for 60 seconds.

Do this for both thumbs.

Conditions To Which Reflexology Should Not be Applied

Countless practitioners and patients have experienced hand reflexology and reaped its benefits. Documented studies and anecdotal reports on reflexology show its efficacy and safety in relieving pain and symptoms of over 150 conditions.

Although safe, it is still a good idea to take take a step back from reflexology treatments when suffering from certain conditions.

These conditions include:

  • Injuries such as wounds and fractures that will not respond positively to pressure, wait for the injury to heal first before undergoing reflexology as part of therapy.

  • Inflammation of the limbs like gout, arthritis, or rheumatism, Reflexology might be able to help ease the symptoms of these conditions but treatment should be done when there are no flare-ups or swelling.

  • Circulation problems or if taking medication that thins the blood, pressure on the reflex points may lead to severe bruising or blood clotting problem.

  • Pregnancy in the first trimester and in the last trimester.Although calming, pregnanat women are cautioned against having massages in general not just reflexology as there might be a risk of bleeding or triggering to contractions.

  • Skin infections and irritations should be left to heal before reflexology is applied to avoid further irritating the skin or spreading the infection to surrounding areas or to other people.

Best Reflexology Massager The Hand

Portable hand massagers are available on the market for those who want the benefits of a hand reflexology massage any time at their literal fingertips.

The price range for a portable reflexology hand massager is anywhere from $60 to $230.

The massagers work by using air pressure massage and pressure point massage to target areas in the hand to simulate a hand reflexology massage.  

The machines also have heat compression and infrared heat to soothe tired hands and aching muscles. It boosts blood circulation and is said to restore function to stiff joints.

Using it is very straightforward. Slide your hand into the device and turn it on. Select the length of time of the massage - from 5 to 15 minutes.

Adjust the intensity of the air pressure and heat and your hand will be rested and restored in as little a quarter of an hour.

Another added benefit of the use of the hand reflexology massager is its effect on the hand’s skin.  

The pressure and the heat help lotions and creams to absorb quickly into the skin leaving it suppler and smoother.

It runs on 4 AA batteries that comes with the machine or an 6V DC adapter.

The machine is quiet and does not make much noise when in use.  

The massager is lightweight at just 2.47 pounds.

The most popular brand is the Breo iPalm5205 priced at $99.99.

An LCD version is valued at $128.99.

Final Verdict: The massager is useful and does what it promises but specific reflex points cannot be programmed or targetted as treatment.

It works as a hand massager but not comparable to an authentic reflexology hand massage.


Embong, N.H. (2015). Revisiting reflexology: Concept, evidence, current practice, and practitioner training. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411015000905

Documented History of Foot, Hand, and Ear Reflexology. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.americanacademyofreflexology.com/documented-history-of-foot-hand-and-ear-reflexology/

Foot Reflexology: A Brief History. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://reflexologyhistory.com/History.html

The History of Reflexology. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.reflexology-uk.net/about-reflexology/reflexology-history

Rich, T. (2012, April 13). History of Hand Reflexology. Retrieved from www.reflexologyuk.org/history-of-hand-reflexology/

Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff at MindBodyPal is a team of experts led by Tyson Chiu. We love tacos, lattes and Funky Fridays.