Asthma and Reflexology – a holistic approach
Asthma is a common condition affecting over five million people in the UK – that includes one in twelve adults (Asthma UK, 2019).
Asthma can cause significant illness, hospitalisation and even death, but most people with asthma can have healthy and active lives. Holistic therapies such as Reflexology, used alongside medical treatments, can be powerful helpers in managing asthma (Norman, 1989).
I have had asthma all my life, but I have generally remained fit and well. I use a daily preventive inhaler, and most of the time I am fine. However I am very aware that particular stresses such as colds, environmental pollution, allergens, emotional distress and anxiety can all leave me feeling tight-chested and wheezy.
What is asthma and who gets it?
Asthma runs in families and often has a genetic basis (Marcovitch, 2011) .Once asthma persists from childhood into adulthood it is generally present for life. Some women also develop asthma for the first time around the time of the menopause, and fluctuations in female hormones can affect the severity of the condition (Asthma UK, 2019).
The small airways within the lungs become narrowed during an asthma attack, leading to difficulty breathing. In severe cases people may become pale, with blue cyanotic lips and tongue and may be unable to speak. This can be very frightening, and people may require emergency hospital treatment.
Asthma is a chronic condition with many triggers. Some factor or combination of factors will set off an inflammatory reaction in the airways, resulting in an attack. The airways can become permanently damaged with repeated and prolonged inflammation, so it is very important to control asthma as well as possible (Robson & Waugh, 2013).
There is a long list of potential asthma triggers, and each person will become familiar with what can set off that horrible feeling of tightness, breathlessness and coughing. Common triggers include house dust mites, pollens, colds and flu, exercise, cold air, female hormone fluctuations, emotional upsets, depression and anxiety, cigarette smoke and air pollution, food and animal hair allergies, some medications … the list goes on! (Asthma UK, 2019)
How is it treated?
Asthma is normally treated with inhaled medications – bronchiodilators which relax smooth muscle to open the airways, and corticosteroids which reduce inflammation (Marcovitch, 2011). Reflexology can be used alongside these treatments to help reduce the frequency and severity of acute attacks and to help people recover from periods of illness.
So how can Reflexology help?
One of the main effects of Reflexology treatment is to bring about deep relaxation to the whole body and all its systems. And when the body is relaxed it starts to heal itself.
There are a number of theories around how Reflexology works. These include the release of endorphins and enkephalins (the body’s natural painkillers), re-education of the autonomic and somatic nervous systems, decongestion of meridian or sen lines, and the fine-tuning of neural pathways (Hull, 2011). Whatever the precise mechanism, Reflexology foot massage regulates the body’s response to stress, especially via the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system.
Reflexology helps you cope with stress
Put more simply, this means that by relaxing the body and mind, Reflexology treatment improves a person’s natural ability to cope with many types of stress, particularly when regular treatments are given over a period of weeks or months (Hull, 2011).
Reflexology treatment has been shown to be more effective than Ibuprofen (an anti-inflammatory drug) in treating period pain (Valiani, 2010). This suggests that Reflexology may be useful in managing inflammatory conditions, such as asthma. Reflexology treatment also supports the cardiovascular system and improves lymphatic drainage, thereby helping recovery from respiratory infections and reducing stress on the lungs and chest.
Reflexology is particularly helpful in managing stress and anxiety which can be a major trigger for asthma attacks in many people. By promoting holistic self care and by supporting the immune system, Reflexology treatments can make people less vulnerable to colds and infections, and this in turn will reduce the impact of asthma.
The holistic health and lifestyle advice provided as an integral part of a Reflexology consultation should include helpful suggestions regarding diet, work and family stresses and environmental considerations which may all help an asthmatic person evaluate how best to minimise asthma triggers in his or her daily life. Yoga and breathing exercises are often helpful in managing asthma and helping prevent a sense of panic around breathing (British Lung Foundation, 2019)
Pressure and massage around the reflexes for the adrenal glands is recommended for all inflammatory conditions, and the reflexes for the lungs, bronchi and diaphragm will all benefit from particular attention in clients with asthma (Hull, 2011).
Reflexology should be used alongside medical treatments for asthma, and clients should be encouraged to follow their doctors’ advice. Clients should always bring their asthma inhaler to a Reflexology session, just in case they become unwell during the treatment.
The main Reflexes for the chest and lungs are situated in the balls of the feet, so these areas may show markers or signs of weakness in people with asthma or other chest conditions. Personally I have very wide and spreading balls of my feet. This may be associated with significant lung and chest tension according to foot reading theories, so this seems to fit in my case (Belyea, 2017).
Reflexology can help you relax, and this can be really useful in managing your asthma
In summary, Reflexology may be very helpful for many people living with asthma. Treatments will help with stress, anxiety, tendencies to inflammation, resistance to infection and many other factors which make a big difference to the health of people living with asthma.
Karen Lawrence is a Reflexology practitioner living and working in Billericay, Essex. She has a scientific and medical background as a Midwife and Health Visitor, in addition to being a Thai Reflexology specialist and Yoga instructor.
To contact Karen and book your Reflexology treatment, visit her website at
Asthma UK. (2019). Retrieved from Asthma UK: https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/
Belyea, S. (2017). Foot Reading. Balboa Press.
British Lung Foundation. (2019). Retrieved from British Lung Foundation: https://www.blf.org.uk/your-stories/learning-to-breathe-transformed-my-life
Hull, R. (2011). The Complete Guide to Reflexology. Cambridge.
Ingham, E. (1984). Stories the Feet can Tell Thru Reflexology. Ingham Publishing.
Marcovitch, H. (2011). Black’s Student Medical Dictionary. Bloomsbury.
Norman, L. (1989). The Reflexology Handbook. London.
Robson, E., & Waugh, J. (2013). Medical Disorders in Pregnancy. Chichester: Wiley.
UK, A. (2019). Retrieved from Asthma UK: https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/
Valiani, M. e. (2010). Comparing the effects of reflexology methods and Ibuprofen administration on dysmenorrhea in female students of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 371-378.