Reflexology and Common Skin Disorders
by Antony Martiniani Shinomiya
I studied Reflexology with S.N.H.S about a year ago and passed my first diploma in January of 2007. I then went on to pass my Advanced Diploma in Reflexology in May 2008. Since then I have treated a variety of clients for numerous ailments, some minor like a backache and some as serious as cancer. Each case has given me a sense of great achievement and satisfaction. Some clients visit just for the relaxation, however, I really like to get my hands working on any problem, I work very hard with every client to try to find the source of the problem and then work towards ‘healing’ or at least easing the symptoms to try to make them feel as comfortable as possible.
I am a Professional Educator and work with various people from a variety of backgrounds such as Doctors, Medical Researchers, University Professors, Sports Coaches and so on.
I have used my knowledge extensively especially in the Holistic Therapy field and a number of my clients are very interested in various healing techniques especially TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Reflexology, Tai’chi’ & Qi’gong, Aromatherapy, and Acupressure.
I have worked closely with these professionals and have had very interesting interactions regarding the application of holistic and conventional medicine.
Shown below is one such case detailing my research and a case study in regard to the application of Reflexology to alleviate common skin disorders and to rebalance the body.
Common skin problems or disorders that reflexologists will probably encounter during their career may come in the form of: eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, acne, urticaria, seborrhea, shingles, erythema and ringworm.
Working the liver area in a Reflexology treatment, which also contacts Pericardium 8 an acu point that helps to clear excess heat, an ideal point to utilize in eczema.
The word ‘eczema’ is taken from the Greek Ek Zeein, it means to boil, seethe, or anything thrown off or out by an internal reaction. All of these definitions imply excess heat or excess turmoil within the body. Eczema and many other skin disorders quite often manifest because of poor function or activity in the internal organs. Any malfunction within is often displayed by the large amounts of toxic waste that the skin will try to eliminate when it cannot be excreted by other means. As a result of an imbalance, we may see a variety of skin disorders ranging from the occasional pimples or pustules to chronic eczema. Eczema is a disorder that is often exacerbated by stress-related problems like most modern diseases and complaints.
In many cases it is just another attempt by the body to try and dispel or expel the accumulated toxins from the body/system, which have amassed owing to the changes in the internal environment.
We know that stress plays a key role in many skin disorders and diseases because stress can inhibit many functions of the body. Reflexologists see these disorders as neither solely allergic in origin nor mainly as an inherited tendency, as these conditions have so many variable causes in the way they often appear and a proficient practitioner will embrace a total holistic concept.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, the skin is related to the lungs, and it is amazing to see how many sufferers of eczema also suffer from asthma or other related breathing problems. Stimulation to the adrenal glands reflex point would help release powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which will calm the most persistent itching, relieve any tendency to wheeziness, help the bronchiolus to relax by opening up the air passageways, and get rid of congestion and any tendency to breathlessness, calm the mucous membrane of the nasopharynx and therefore aid the elimination of mucus thus enhance better breathing conditions.
Constipation is also another well-known problem that may cause skin eruptions. If the bowels do not eliminate in the correct manner again some toxic waste is released through the skin in the form of minor eruptions. A malfunction of the hormones or the sebaceous glands can cause acne. Autoimmune disorders may affect the skin as in the case of lupus erythematosus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus SLE or Lupus) this is a chronic auto immune disease that can be fatal, though with recent medical advances, fatalities are becoming increasingly rare. As with other auto immune diseases, the immune system attacks the body’s cells and tissue, resulting in inflammation and tissue damage. SLE can affect any part of the body, but most often harms the heart, joints, skin, lungs, blood vessels, liver, kidneys, and nervous system. The course of the disease is unpredictable, with periods of illness (called flares) alternating with remission.
Lupus can occur at any age, and is most common in women, particularly of non-European descent. Lupus is treatable symptomatically, mainly with corticosteroids and immuno suppressants, though there is currently no cure. Survival in patients with SLE in the United States, Canada, and Europe is approximately 95% at 5 years, 90% at 10 years, and 78% at 20 years. In these instances the skin is acting as a gateway through which the body eliminates these toxins and waste materials.
Many internal disorders resulting in skin eruptions are often brought about or exacerbated by incorrect eating habits or allergies to certain foods. If foods contain additives, preservatives these can often be the underlying culprits. So we see that skin disorders can be exacerbated by incorrect eating habits, which cause an internal imbalance.
The skin is very susceptible to outside influences; it may come into contact with many irritating substances, such as household products, contaminated air and other various foreign substances that may contain harsh chemicals, often causing dermatitis (inflammation of the skin). In panic, patients often apply substances or salves to the skin and this may force the problem deeper. It is imperative that the offending substance/cause is found so that it can be tackled at its prime cause or source.
Atopy ; Greek – placelessness) or Atopic Syndrome is an allergic hypersensitivity affecting parts of the body not in direct contact with the allergen. It may involve Eczema (atopic dermatitis), Allergic Conjunctivitis, Allergic Rhinitis and Asthma. There appears to be a strong hereditary component. One study concludes that “the general risk of developing Atopic Dermatitis (3%) and Atopy (7%) increases by a factor of two with each first-degree family member already suffering from atopy” . Eczema—a typical Atopic manifestation.
The hereditary component is presumably due to certain genes coding proteins involved in the normal immune response mechanism, i.e., human leukocyte antigen, although environmental factors have also been implicated. Atopic syndrome can be fatal for those who experience serious allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis brought on by reactions to food or the environment.
The individual components are all caused at least in part by allergy (type I hypersensitivity reactions). These responses appear after the body is exposed to various allergens, for example specific kinds of food, pollen, dander or insect venoms. Although atopy has various definitions, most consistently it is defined by the presence of elevated levels of total and allergen-specific IgE in the serum of patient, leading to positive skin-prick tests to common allergens.
The multicenter PARSIFAL study in 2006, involving 6630 children age 5 to 13 in 5 European countries, suggested that restrictive use of antibiotics and antipyretics, are associated with a reduced risk of allergic disease in children.
- Cracks in the skin under the earlobe
- In elbow flexures and/or hollow of the knees
- Nipple eczema
- Neurodermatitis can indicate Lichen simplex chronicus and its cousin, prurigo nodularis; these are types of eczema that are thought to be self-caused, as by habitual scratching, or have unexplained origin, and are mostly localized; the older term was “localized or circumscribed neurodermatitis.”
Other types of “Lichens” such as Lichen Striatus (aka linear neurodermatitis), which are part of the pruritic dermatoses spectrum. Atopic dermatitis – also known as childhood eczema; this usage is still common in parts of Europe; the older term was “disseminated neurodermatitis.”
There are still references in the older literature to the psychosomatic nature of these disorders, and their accompanying “psychogenic” itch. This is why the older terms had “neuro” in them: as a reference to the link with mental illness. There continues to be a suspicion of obsessive-compulsive behaviours leading to some forms of dermatitis.
Subtype Dyshidrosis, also termed Dyshidrotic Eczema, Pompholyx and Dyshidrotic Dermatitis, is a skin condition that is characterized by small blisters on the hands or feet. It is an acute, chronic, or recurrent dermatosis of the fingers, palms, and soles, characterized by a sudden onset of many deep-seated pruritic, clear vesicles; later, scaling, fissures and lichenification occur. Recurrence is common and for many can be chronic. Incidence/Prevalence is said to be 20/100,000 in the USA, however, many cases of eczema are diagnosed as garden-variety atopic eczema without further investigation, so it is possible this figure is misleading.
This condition is not contagious to others, but due to its unsightly nature can cause significant distress in regards to social interactions with others.
The name comes from the word “dyshidrotic,” meaning “bad sweating,” which was once believed to be the cause. Sometimes called Pompholyx (Greek for “bubble”) which is generally reserved for the cases with blisters; in some countries, pompholyx refers to hand dyshidrosis.
Keratosis pilaris (Keratosis pilaris (KP, also follicular keratosis) is a very common genetic follicular condition that is manifested by the appearance of rough bumps on the skin and hence colloquially referred to as “chicken skin” as well as “meat bumps”. It most often appears on the back and outer sides of the upper arms (though the lower arms can also be affected), and can also occur on the thighs and tops of legs, flanks, buttocks or any body part except glabrous skin (like the palms or soles of feet). Less commonly, lesions appear on the face and may be mistaken for acne.
Perlèche (Angular Cheilitis (also called perlèche, cheilosis or angular stomatitis) is an inflammatory lesion at the labial commissure, or corner of the mouth, and often occurs bilaterally. The condition manifests as deep cracks or splits. In severe cases, the splits can bleed when the mouth is opened and shallow ulcers or a crust may form.
Conjunctivitis (Conjunctivitis (IPA:), commonly called “Pink Eye” and “Red Eye” is an inflammation of the conjunctiva (the outermost layer of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids), most commonly due to an allergic reaction or an infection (usually bacterial, but sometimes viral).
Chronic or seasonal rhinitis. Rhinitis is the medical term describing irritation and inflammation of some internal areas of the nose. The primary symptom of Rhinitis is a runny nose. It is caused by chronic or acute inflammation of the mucous membrane of the nose due to viruses, bacteria or irritants. The inflammation results in the generating of excessive amounts of mucus producing a runny nose, nasal congestion and post-nasal drip.
According to recent studies completed in the United States, more than fifty million Americans are current sufferers. Rhinitis has also been found to adversely affect more than just the nose, throat, and eyes. It has been associated with sleeping problems, problems with the ears, and even been linked to learning problems. Rhinitis is caused by an increase in histamine. This increase is likely caused by airborne allergens. These allergens may affect an individual’s nose, throat, or eyes and cause an increase in fluid production within these areas.
Analysis and Treatment
Skin assessment is one of our foremost tasks when we first apply our skills during foot or hand analysis. We need to check for any abnormality such as: skin colour, pallor or cyanosis, skin texture, skin temperature and humidity. During the normal ageing process the skin becomes thinner and loses some of its suppleness but it is necessary to examine the elasticity of the skin. This needs to be observed closely to see if there is a condition of anhidrosis which may be due to poor peripheral circulation. One of the main aggravations we often find with the skin is a fissure or slight defect in the skin of which the patient is often unaware. This could prove to be an entry site for bacteria which can be exchanged quite easily by personal contact or touch. It is of the utmost importance that the practitioner ensures the highest standards of hygiene when handling any area that has a break in it to prevent infection or cross infection.
A reflexology practitioner must adopt the best and safest practice at all times. Also, it is crucial to note if there are any signs of circulatory problems such as swelling, blanching, varicose, eczema or any other pigmentation that may be visually present. If there is any severe skin problem on the hands or feet we first have to establish if it may be an allergic disorder, such as contact Dermatitis, which may be caused by a multitude of substances to which the skin is sensitive. Even sweaty feet can release chemicals from dyes in shoes or by a reaction to washing powders, when traces may be left in footwear. These skin eruptions can vary from slight redness to severe inflammation It is so much better for the patient to try Reflexology first, prior to the use of any prescribed corticosteroid creams. Reflexology improves the general elasticity of the skin because it stimulates the whole blood transport system, oxygen, nutrients and other necessary chemical messengers, such as hormones. Overall circulation improves which then improves the general tone and quality of the skin.
We must also inspect nails for fungi or viral infections. These can easily be transmitted by touch and it is imperative that the practitioner safeguards themselves from cross infection. The most common examples are caused by the Tinea group, which include Tinea pedis (athlete’s foot) and Tinea unguium (ringworm of the nails). These may be caused by direct or indirect contact with other people or contaminated articles that may contain recently shed infected skin cells.
Ringworm, a tiny organism, flourishes in moist, warm areas making the skin become very itchy and flaky. Usually it affects the top layer of the epidermis and it is when shedding takes place that infection can be spread. Thus, it is imperative for the practitioner to maintain a very high standard of hygiene at all times: ensuring each patient has their own towel, sweeping the area before and after each treatment session and washing one’s own hands.
Diet should also be looked at, as this is often the reason that the person’s defence system is low. All processed foods should be eliminated, restrict foods that have hidden sugars, any words ending in ‘ose’ indicates a sugar, ie lactose, sucrose etc. One should also be aware of sugar substitutes, as they do not contain any nutritional benefits whatsoever, they are artificially refined carbohydrates and there is no need for them in the diet.
Often Eczema sufferers have a totally congested and acidic system. This is shown by the colour of their skin, which may have a grey tinge or poor colour. You may find the Colon area on the feet or hands puffy and inflamed; this may be due to a deficient diet often high in either hidden sugars, dairy products or processed foods The ingestion of known irritants such as Tomatoes, Oranges, green Peppers, Cucumber, Potatoes, Mushrooms, condiments, spices and curries, also excess Tea and Coffee, can play a part in causing more aggravation to the existing problem.
When patients come for Reflexology they are often unsure as to whether they will get a response or not. They are therefore amazed at how the essential moisturising factor of the skin seems to be improved with regular Reflexology treatments. Treatment appears to advance the whole natural process of skin shedding and skin renewal; it is the stimulation to cells within the stratum geminativum that helps in this exfoliating process. Stimulation also seems to help its secretory functions. The two main excretory substances are sweat and sebum (see below).
Reflexology also brings about a profound sense of well-being and complete relaxation, thus reducing any stress, which is often very evident in people suffering with a skin complaint. A Reflexologist will aim to help regulate the general homeostasis of the body. As the kidneys play such a vital role in regulating the composition of the internal environment, extra stimulation on this reflex point is very important. The kidney reflex needs to be worked several ways to ensure proper activity within the organ. The internal environment of the body is kept within narrow but normal limits by feedback mechanisms; many systems or organs of the body are involved. The hypothalamus regulates many hormonal functions. The lungs improve the gaseous exchange within the alveolus helping the intake of oxygen and expulsion of carbon dioxide which is by diffusion. The liver balances the blood glucose concentrations maintaining the correct levels. The role of the skin is in making sure that the body temperature does not deviate too much beyond accepted limits.
Reflexology has a wonderful way of helping balance all the above systems of the body and all secretory functions. Secretion is one of the skin’s most important functions. Sebum, a natural lubricant from the sebaceous glands, keeps the epidermis supple and helps to reduce any tendency to dryness; it also protects with its antibacterial action and antiseptic properties. Perspiration contains some sodium chloride, small quantities of urea and lactic acid; it is secreted from the sudorific glands. These two main substances together create what is known as the ‘acid mantle’, with a pH between 4.5 and 6; this helps protect the skin from any growth of organisms. It is essential that the correct balance is maintained. The pH of the skin is most important, just like the pH of the body fluids, all of which must be maintained at a neutral pH level.
The sweat glands are governed by the Sympathetic nervous system. Often when there is excess stress or an emotional overload, activity within the glands increases and they discharge cellular matter as well as fluid. This is shown when there are sweat spots on the feet or hands; these often arise when there has been any overload on the emotions or there is undue stress.
Eccrine sweat is a slightly acid and watery fluid which contains and excretes a certain amount of urea, one of the chief waste products of the body. Excess tension in the body can exacerbate this natural process. If the liver or renal function is slightly defective, this waste product will then try to pass out through the skin. If the person has a skin disorder, this action can be inhibited further causing internal imbalances. It is vital that the sympathetic nerves are calmed down and the hormones of the endocrine system are stimulated, as both are involved in the regulatory mechanism.
Thus, in the case of skin disorders, such as Eczema, Reflexology seems to help in the healing process with an action similar to an emollient softening and soothing the skin if it is dry, hard or cracked.
Usually, at the first treatment session, I suggest a fast for 2 to 3 days with lots of water to flush through the toxins. However, I instruct patients to do this only if they confirm that their General Practitioner or GP is in agreement and they are able to have a quiet couple of days. Then a restricted diet for about 2 weeks is recommended. The diet should consist of lots of raw salads or lightly cooked vegetables; dressings can be made with Olive oil and Lemon. Quantity does not matter, individuals should let hunger be their guide. They must ensure, however, that they do not have any mucus-building foods during this period, then a bland diet together with Reflexology sessions should follow until all eruptions have completely healed and disappeared.
It is important to check first to see whether there are any stomach problems; flatulence or acid regurgitation is often a sign that there may be an allergy or a lactose intolerance, and dairy products could be making the problem worse. Reflexology is a marvellous way to detoxify the body; working on the liver reflex will help to eliminate any excess heat in the body and help normalize and balance its function.
Energy in the body takes many forms; chemical energy, electrical energy and heat energy from muscle contraction. This energy flow is maximized during a Reflexology treatment, ensuring improvement in health and harmony of the body in general.
Acne Vulgaris or Acne as most people refer to it, is quite a common condition usually affecting most adolescents. This is a disorder of the sebaceous glands where the sebum, an oily substance that each gland produces, cannot flow out of the hair follicle because the exit has become blocked by a plug of skin debris or the sebum has hardened. The sebaceous gland then becomes inflamed because of the accumulation of sebum and an acne type spot will appear. If there is any build up of bacteria, pustules containing pus or a papule which are small superficially raised red spots all cause further inflammation.
If adolescents observe strict hygiene and use a recommended product to counteract the excess grease that is produced by the sebaceous glands and if they take extra care with their diet by cutting down on excess chocolates and sweets, in the majority of cases this distressing condition can be controlled. However, as there is more than one factor that causes acne, there is still a small percentage of young people who have to seek medical advice.
A young woman aged 17 years old had suffered from Acne for over one year. She had tried various over the counter soaps, acne reliving and other products. Throughout this period she had repeatedly been to see her General Practitioner, who had prescribed a series of topical treatments, some of which had angered the skin. He had suggested an oral drug over a period of some weeks; however the young woman’s Mother felt that there were too many side effects. This young patient was very distraught when she presented herself on her first visit, and she had tried to conceal her facial spots with make up.
She told me she was unhappy at school because people had commented about her problem. Her Mother said it was increasingly evident that she was now using many excuses not to attend school. She was tearful and had great mood swings. Her Mother said there were so many arguments between her and the younger brother that their home life was becoming intolerable.
The Mother and Father had been patients over the last seven years. The daughter had been to see me before with painful menstruation when she was just 13 years old, and had felt some considerable benefit from treatment. This young lady is now quite tall but she was rather overweight. She used to play a lot of netball but she had now declined to do so as she was unhappy about using the communal changing area as her back and chest were also covered in acne. The patient told me her bowels were very sluggish. She often missed a day but then she could be very loose. She also complained of always feeling tired. She told me she did not drink much water, her main intake of fluids being from carbonated drinks or Tea and Coffee and she admitted to having snacks of crisps at break time each day. She often got her own tea in the evening as both parents worked. Mother would pick up the young son from the Grandparents, who collected him from school and gave him his evening meal, I could see that this young lady had not only suffered physical scarring from the acne but she had also been psychologically affected.
At this first visit I noticed how much her feet were sweating excessively (Hidrosis) and her feet were very tense. Endocrine areas that were extremely sensitive were the Pituitary, Thyroid and intense sensitivity of the Adrenal gland. The Liver, Kidneys, large and small Intestine; also the Shoulder and Spinal reflexes were all tender.
Next we address the diet. I asked her to cut down on all her refined carbohydrates and reduce her fat intake. I suggested that she had Fish or Chicken and plenty of Vegetables and Salads. I further suggested that she took a piece of fresh fruit daily to school instead of the crisps. She was also recommended to increase her water intake to 6–8 glasses of water per day. I asked her not to wear make up and to get plenty of fresh air and regular exercise. After a complete treatment she looked relaxed and her cheeks were quite pink. I applied extra palpation on the TB.6 point on the forearm, a pressure point for any skin eruption.
I also applied a bean on the following auricular points, the Adrenal Gland (on the tragus) for its anti-inflammatory properties and the Wind Stream point (on the Scaphoid Fossa) which is ideal for any skin irritation.
The activity of the Sebaceous glands is controlled mainly by the Adrenal Gland in females, and this gland is also very tender when the sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive. The Pituitary gland governs a series of hormones with many different functions. The Thyroid also plays a role in the general wellbeing of the skin and helps the hair, skin and nails to stay in good condition. Any homoeostatic imbalance within these areas can cause no end of problems to manifest.
The Intestines had also been sensitive to stress causing a slightly irritable bowel. The liver and kidneys showed up because of the excess toxins within the system.
This young lady responded to treatment from day one, she had six consecutive treatments and we saw a steady improvement over these visits. She still attends every four weeks. The scarring is gradually disappearing, she still gets occasional spots, but she knows that she had eaten the wrong things the previous day or that she was over stressed at school. However, she is meticulous in her hygiene routine. It is a much happier young lady who now attends on her own and has a much more positive attitude to her lovely life.
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Reflexology Association of America