Feet are an important and often ignored part of the body's health system. Three out of four Americans experience a serious foot problem in their lifetime, many of which are treatable and preventable. In Chinese medicine, the condition of the feet is crucial to overall health and is considered a separate body related to all body parts and organs.
The Podiatric Medical Association says that an average day of walking brings a force equal to several hundred tons down on the feet. This helps explain why the feet are more subject to injury than any other part of the body.
One-quarter of the body's bones are in the feet, and misalignment of these bones can cause trouble in the rest of the body. A foot problem can lead to hip, knee and low-back pain, which can move in to the shoulder and neck and even cause headache. Misalignments can also cause problems with the acupuncture meridians that travel through the foot. When a misaligned bone blocks acupuncture meridians, related organs or glands can experience problems.
The foot has many nerve receptors that send important information to the central nervous system. This communication is used to track where particular parts of the body are at every moment and to determine what direction they go, how fast they move and how much pressure they receive. As we walk, each joint of the foot sends information to the nervous system so that it can regulate the functions of our muscles. This allows us to walk -- if muscles didn't turn on and off we would not be able to move properly. If a muscle is not active when it is supposed to be, balance is upset and a muscle on the other side of the body will become too tight. When it becomes too tight, it pulls the bones out of alignment, causing problems.
The foot is divided into vital-energy sections so attention to one area of the foot will give therapeutic treatment to the corresponding body part. Zonal relationships exist between the body and the feet. Ten vertical zones of the body are connected with those in the feet. Sensory nerves of the internal organs that spread through the body are mostly gathered around the soles of the feet.
Reflexology, a specialized form of Chinese massage dating back to the fourth century B.C., focuses on these areas in order to stimulate body functions, eliminate toxins, improve circulation and soothe nerves. Reflexology can also be used to treat internal organ diseases, relieve internal discomfort and relax the body.
According to the Foot Health Network, there are over 25 foot conditions, including arthritis, bunions, athlete's foot, overlapping toes, corns, ingrown toenails and heel spurs. These symptoms, as well as sensitive areas and blockages are evidence of a disturbance in the body in corresponding areas. The removal of a blockage in the foot improves the blood and nerve supplies as well as the energy flow to the body. Reflexology tackles the foot problem, returning the body's function to its homeostasis.
Most reflexology foot massages begin with a footbath. The feet are dunked in a heated, medicinal bath, a blend of 28 kinds of Chinese herbs. After this cleanse, lotion is applied for a massage of deep pressure on the feet, ankles and calves. Following the laws of yin and yang, often, men's massages begin on the right foot, women's on the left. By other standards, all massages begin on the left foot because of its connection to the heart.
The principle of reflexology foot massage states that there are reflexes on the bottom of the foot that are directly related to organs, glands and other parts of the body. Practitioners will find the reflexes that are active and use acupressure-like stimulation on these points, which in turn helps these organs, glands and body parts to work better. The misalignment of the bones of the foot causes these reflexes to be present, leading to tender spots or trigger-points. When the bones are in proper alignment, the reflexes on the bottom of the foot will be stimulated as you walk, like an automatic reflexology foot massage.
When the feet and body are in alignment, walking is the best exercise to maintain healthy feet. It contributes to general health by improving circulation, contributing to weight control and promoting all-around wellbeing.
The foot contains meridians related to the Spleen, Liver, Stomach, Kidney, Bladder and Gallbladder. Because all of the acupuncture meridians of the body either begin or end on the feet or hands, foot health is crucially important for balance of the acupuncture energy system. Proper balance will support strong qi and vibrant health. In this way, foot health is the foundation upon which whole body wellness rests.