Headache, back pain, or period cramps? This natural method can bring you some relief.

Reflexology has many benefits, both physical and mental. It can contribute to better overall health in myriad ways, from easing anxiety to increasing circulation. The practice, while based on the same Chinese Medicine principles as acupressure and acupuncture, features a different approach.

"Instead of needles to stimulate meridian points, the thumbs, knuckles, or specialized wooden tools are used in reflexology to apply force to the pressure points," explains Cherry Angelica Alfiler, an expert reflexologist and teacher at Enhance Arts Aesthetics & Spa. The result, though, is the same: relief.

One major way it offers reprieve: pain management, both acute and chronic. Seriously, there are studies that show it can help with post-operative pain in breast cancer patients. Like anything, though, "you have to get on top of it before anything else can take place," explains Evie Fleming, LPN, owner of Tree Evolution, because "the body is using all of its reserves toward that" issue.  

How does reflexology work?

Reflexology is a science that maps out and creates a reflection of the entire body on the feet, hands, and outer ears. By manipulating pressure on a specific area on your hand, foot, or ears, you can help bring balance to and alleviate issues in the corresponding body part, "promoting health and activating the healing potential of the body through relaxation," says Tish Gilmore, a reflexologist and president of the American Reflexology Certification Board.

"Human bodies are immensely intelligent, but can be overburdened with stress and trauma, causing internal overload," Gilmore says. "The practice allows the body to realign itself and find vitality in a natural, supportive way." 

In more scientific terms: "The nervous system of the body moves from a sympathetic (fight or flight) to a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state, enabling it to work toward homeostasis and internal healing," says Gilmore. She notes that for acute or transient problems, reflexology can provide relief in a single session, but chronic issues may take more time.

3 Soothing Ways to Try Reflexology

The good news: Reflexology can help with any kind of musculoskeletal issue, says Alfiler. Here are three common types of pain that reflexology can help soothe. 

Reflexology points for back pain
Credit: Yeji Kim

1 Solve Your Back Aches

One word: debilitating. That's what back pain can be. And it will affect roughly 80 percent of people at some point in their lives. So when you feel a twinge of  tightness and/or throbbing in your lower trunk area, try turning to reflexology.  

Alfiler says that it's ideal for muscle and joint pain as well as muscle stiffness, specifically in the back—and there's plenty of research to back this up. One small study involving 50 nurses revealed that three, 40-minute sessions during a two-week time period led to a dip in the intensity of back pain. Another study found that others who engaged in reflexology once a week for six week also experienced a reduction in lower back pain.

When in the throes of back pain—whether upper, lower, or middle—you want to work along the inside of the foot. "The top of the toe is the top of the head way," says Gilmore. "You work on that [inner] edge slowly, then slightly deeper, and stop on the tender points to work them out." While this is a simplified explanation of the process, and a professional can really help work the right spots, it's good knowledge to have on hand if you find yourself in a pinch.

Reflexology point for period cramps and pains
Credit: Yeji Kim

2 Placate Period Pain

Got cramps? Research has shown that ear, hand, and foot reflexology can offer relief. In fact, it works better than popping an over-the-counter pain killer (like ibuprofen). That's good news, considering serious period pain can disrupt the daily activities of up to 20 percent of women.

Gilmore says her go-to sources are three places in the foot: the distal and posterior to medial malleolus—or in between the sweet center point just under your inside ankle; the exact same spot on the outside ankle; and the whole dorsal bridge between the two areas." This essentially represents and corresponds to the ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes. Hold these points and palpate around to see if any of the areas are tender," Gilmore says. "Hold the tenderness lightly until it fades," which should take no more than a minute or less per point.

Reflexology point on hand for headaches
Credit: Yeji Kim

3 Head Off Headaches

The severe throbbing or pulsing sensation of a migraine can be unbearable. Not only do you have to deal with the agonizing aching, but often things such as sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting can also be part of it. And they're pretty darn common, too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) a little more than 30 percent of people 18 years and older report having a migraine in the previous three months. Luckily, research shows reflexology can help improve and/or put the kibosh on the pain. An easy at-home hack: Press firmly on the soft, meaty webbing between your forefinger and thumb for one minute, says Gilmore. This should bring you some relief in no time.

RELATED: 4 Pressure Points That Can Quickly Soothe a Headache