The facts

Reflexology is a manual technique involving "reflex points" on the feet. In reflexology, it is thought that the foot is the base of the body's energy and that by stimulating certain spots on the foot, one can channel the energy to the places in the body where it is needed.

Though reflexology's roots are ancient, a 20th-century American doctor and nurse collaborated to create a "map" that would guide the practice. On this map, the body is divided into 10 zones, each of which corresponds to a spot on the foot. By stimulating a reflex point on the foot, proponents believe that you can affect the corresponding body part or organ.

In a session, which typically lasts 30 to 60 minutes, a reflexologist examines a person's foot and applies pressure to the reflex points. No scientific evidence confirms any benefits or risks to reflexology, but smaller studies and anecdotal evidence suggest the technique may be helpful in reducing stress and headache symptoms.

A word of caution

Reflexologists require no formal training, though some massage schools teach courses in the technique. Other practitioners are self-taught or apprenticed. Since you cannot verify a practitioner's credentials, you would rely on references or recommendations from someone you trust, like a massage therapist or a doctor.

Be sure to tell your health care providers about any past or current reflexology sessions you have undergone. It may not be advised for those with certain medical conditions.