The skin problems that a reflexologist may come into contact with include: eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, acne, urticaria, seborrhoea, shingles, erythema and ringworm.
The word ‘eczema’ is taken from the Greek Ek Zeein, meaning to boil, seethe, or anything thrown off or out by an internal reaction. All of these definitions imply excess heat or excess turmoil within. Eczema and many other skin disorders often manifest because of poor function and 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 occasional pimples or pustules to chronic eczema. Eczema is a disorder that is often exacerbated by stress-related problems. In many cases it is just another attempt by the body to throw off the accumulated toxins from the system, which have amassed owing to the changes in the internal environment, passing these out through the skin. We know that stress can play a large part in these many skin diseases because stress can inhibit many functions of the body. A reflexologist sees 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 the total holistic concept.
According to TCM theory, the skin is related to the lungs, and it is amazing to see how many sufferers of eczema also have asthma or 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 aid the elimination of mucus.
Constipation is another well-known problem that may cause skin eruptions. If the bowels do not eliminate in the correct manner 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. In these instances we see the skin acting as a gateway through which the body eliminates lots of waste products. 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, 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 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 is found so that it can be tackled at its source.
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 a site for entry of 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 best and safe 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 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 (see chapter 11, page 385) with lots of water to flush through the toxins. However, I instruct patients to do this only if they confirm that their 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 normalise 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 maximised during a reflexology treatment, ensuring improvement in health and harmony of the body in general.
• Extract from Reflexology: The Definitive Practitioner’s Manual by Beryl Crane. Element Books Limited Shaftesbury 1997.
by Beryl Crane