Reflexology gaining acceptance in the United States

Published on: February 26, 2014

Debi Sanguedolce, licensed massage therapist and practicing reflexologist, works on a co-worker’s hands during a break. Photo Penny Fletcher

Debi Sanguedolce, licensed massage therapist and practicing reflexologist, works on a co-worker’s hands during a break. Photo Penny Fletcher

“When I leave I’m in a whole new place,” said Trudy Coleman, a longtime resident and former owner of The Coleman Connection Realty in Sun City Center. “It’s a world of comfort. Like being cut free of all your up-tightness. It’s a very short hour.”

Coleman is just one example of the local people who have tried reflexology and said it helps them relax and can eliminate pain.

History shows that the ancient Egyptian and Chinese practiced it, and now many other countries use it as established alternative medical practice.

Debi Sanguedolce, a licensed massage therapist, uses therapeutic reflexology in her office at A Peaceful Harbor Day Spa and Salon in Apollo Beach, owned by Kathie McPhee.

Sanguedolce has taught reflexology at Keiser University and at Manatee Technical Institute, where she is also on the Advisory Council.

“A lot of people who are embarrassed by massage will take off their shoes and let us work on their feet,” she said. Others use both massage and reflexology for many things, especially stress and pain relief, she said.

Coleman swears by it.

The technique involves the 2,000 nerve pathways through the body that end in the feet. All the organs and systems in the body are represented in what reflexologists term “zones” in the feet. The hands mirror the feet and also can be used to receive benefit from reflexology, but reflexologists say working on the feet is the most powerful.

“Applying static compression to certain places in the feet or hands can initiate the healing process,” Sanguedolce said. “This technique was introduced in the United States in 1913 by William Fitzgerald, an ear, nose and throat specialist.

When researched on the Internet, the history of reflexology in the US also mentions Dr. Edwin Bowers, who worked with Fitzgerald. He is said to have used the practice for an anesthetic effect.

But Sanguedolce didn’t learn about the procedure from the Internet.

As a young mother living in Arkansas, she watched as the medical profession couldn’t help her son, who had had an adverse reaction to something that happened in a doctor’s office.

“Back then, we grew all our own food, and were really into the health food thing,” she said. “Still, I was skeptical when I went into the health food store and found and read the book on reflexology by Eunice Ingham.” Ingham’s work culminated in the International Institute of Reflexology, which has since become popular in several places, including an institute currently operating in St. Petersburg.

“I read the book and started doing the technique on my son, and he never had any more problems,” Sanguedolce said. After that, she began to study the procedure, along with massage.

Locally, many people attest to the ability of reflexology to help them.

“Patti Green had a broken small toe and was hurting walking, even after it healed, but reflexology adjusted it,” said Sangueldoce.

She tells of an elderly Native American who allowed her to adjust his back while she was staying near a reservation in Orange Springs. “His granddaughter came to me crying that he needed help. Until then, none of the tribe would let me touch them,” she said.

Another story centered on helping a young girl with ear pain during a flight.

“She was just screaming and holding her ear,” Sanguedolce said. “I showed the parents where to apply pressure on her hand, and almost immediately, she stopped crying.”

The American Cancer Society has approved reflexology as a help with breast cancer pain and is using it in its “integrated” program at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

Some medical insurances are starting to allow payment for it, for certain conditions. Meanwhile, other countries often use it as a regular practice.

“In Thailand, for instance,” Sanguedolce said, “everyone who enters the emergency room of a hospital has it done automatically.”

The Internet shows that 22 percent of residents of Denmark use the procedure; and in the United Kingdom, it is regulated by the Complimentary & Natural Health Care Council, which regulates all alternative medicine.

Reflexologists explain that it works this way: The bottoms of the feet have zones that correspond to various areas of the body. If you have two of something, it appears on both feet, like two kidneys, or two lungs. If you only have one, like one liver, then you only have it on one foot.

Sanguedolce is available to speak about reflexology (and massage) to groups and to explain its value. She may be reached at