Applying pressure to specific points on the foot is a healing practice that's been used for thousands of years. In addition to offering the relaxing benefits of massage, stimulating points on the feet can also stimulate other parts of the body to help relieve discomfort associated with conditions such as diabetes, asthma, anxiety or headaches. Although navigating your way through all the pressure points is best done with a map -- a tool created by reflexologists and acupressure practitioners -- having a basic understanding of the practice can get your pressure point massage off on the right foot.

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History of Pressure Point Therapy

Pressure point therapies such as acupuncture, acupressure and reflexology, have roots that are believe to extend for thousands of years. The practices are often associated with Asian healing practices, although there are pictographs suggesting Egyptians practiced foot massage as far back as 2500 B.C. In Western medicine, using touch as means for healing can be traced back to the 5th century B.C., with Hippocrates' teachings on the power of massage for healing and aiding tissue growth. In the 1930's, physiotherapist Eunice Ingham developed maps of the pressure points in the feet after finding that the foot is one of the most responsive body parts to pressure point therapy.

Pressure Points: A Working Definition

Pressure points on the foot are believed to correspond to different organs, bones and systems in the body. In reflexology or acupressure, these points are massaged to stimulate the corresponding body part 5. The practice isn't used as a curative treatment; instead, pressure point therapies are used as complementary therapies to support overall health and alleviate discomfort associated with certain conditions. Although there isn't a wealth of scientific research, practitioners believe that stimulating these pressure points has far more health benefits and positive effects than a simple foot massage, which aims to relax the muscles in the foot.

Pressure Points in the Foot

Although identifying pressure points on the foot is complex, at its most basic, each foot corresponds to organs, bones and systems on that side of the body. Different points are located on the inner and outer foot as well as the bottom and top of each foot. Most maps of pressure points break it down further to identify specific parts of the foot that stimulate specific regions of the body and further still to identify specific body parts. For example, everything above the base of the toes corresponds to the shoulder line of the body, including the head, sinuses, jaw, teeth, ears and throat. The tip of the big toe typically corresponds to the brain, while the base of the big toe relates to the neck.

Techniques for Activating Pressure Points

Unlike traditional massage techniques, which are typically larger movements such as stroking, kneading or tapping, pressure point massage uses smaller, micromovements to create responses in the body. One of the most basic techniques for activating a pressure point on the foot, is to simply press on the point for 10 seconds, three times in a row. Other basic techniques include gripping the pressure point with the flat of your thumb and finger to put pressure on it and walking your fingers across a specific area, such as the inner or outer foot, while steadily applying pressure.