Did you know that the answer to your sinus congestion problem might be found in your fingers? Or the cure for constipation found in your feet? Reflexology is based on the concept that our hands and feet contain nerve endings that form a map of the entire body. You can learn to do this safe therapy at home for relief from common health concerns such as back pain, allergy symptoms and even insomnia.

How it works: When you apply pressure to key points on your hands and feet, you activate nerve endings and help your nervous and circulatory systems get your body into better balance. Our nerve endings are connected to spinal nerves as well as to corresponding organs. Each can be reached by a point on the feet or hands. (For instance, the side of your thumb matches up with your spine.)

Reflexology has solid scientific research behind it. Back in 1993, the first US reflexology study published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, Obstetrics & Gynecology, studied the effects of reflexology on premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The study showed a 46% reduction in premenstrual symptoms. 

More recently, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health awarded a second round of funding to Michigan State University researchers to continue studying the impact of ­reflexology on women undergoing chemotherapy for advanced breast cancer. So far, patients have shown improvement in shortness of breath, as well as in 10 areas of physical activity. Meanwhile, preliminary research out of The Ohio State ­University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center is looking at the effect of reflexology and aromatherapy in women undergoing breast cancer radiation treatment—it suggests that the combo reduces pain by 60% and anxiety by 20%.

As a clinical reflexologist trained in this noninvasive, holistic therapy, I see the benefits in my clients every day. While reflexology generally is very safe, there are a few caveats. If you have unchecked diabetes, a blood clot or foot injuries or sores, you should check with your doctor first. And of course, remember that reflexology is a complementary therapy, not a substitute for medical care. 

These are some of my favorite techniques that you can do at home for common health complaints. Relax, take off your socks and get hands-on for better health.

Fix Gut Woes 

This move regulates and supports your GI system to help with constipation, gas and indigestion. Equipment: Golf ball (or other similarly sized hard ball).

How to do it: Interlock your fingers.

  1. Roll the ball around the lower area of your palms, or heels, of your hands. This corresponds to the digestive reflexes for the small and large intestines. 
  2. Continue rolling the ball for one minute.

Rx: Do this once or twice a week for two weeks. Then, as needed.

Roll Away A Bloated Belly 

Rolling the soles of your feet is great for gastric distress and relieving bloating in particular. This is one of my personal ­favorite self-help techniques. Equipment: Wooden foot roller.

How to do it: Roll underneath your arches on the soles of your feet with a wooden foot roller.

Rx: Do this after a big meal when you’re feeling puffy. Do this for one to two minutes on each foot. 

Beat Insomnia 

This technique is great if you’re having trouble sleeping. You press a point on your thumb that is the reflex for the ­pituitary gland. The pituitary gland oversees the entire endocrine system ­(especially the adrenals, which are involved with cortisol levels and stress), so this is a really important point to help the body balance itself. Equipment: None.

How to do it…

  1. Find the middle of the whorl of your thumbprint. This is the reflex for the pituitary gland.
  2. Using the side of one thumb, press that thumb’s nail firmly into the center of the whorl of the other thumbprint and hold for 45 seconds. How do you know if you found the right spot? Here are some clues: It might feel like a little metal ball under the skin. Or it might feel like you stuck a needle in your thumb. This area might feel more sensitive if you’ve had trouble sleeping lately.
  3. Repeat with the other thumb.

Rx: Press this spot on both thumbs two to three times a day to sleep more soundly on a regular basis. And next time you wake up in the middle of the night, you’ll know what to do. 

Relieve Allergy and Sinus Congestion 

The fingers contain the reflexes for the head and sinuses. This move alleviates any kind of congestion—and the best part is that it often works right away. Equipment: Just your hands!

How to do it…

  1. Turn your hand palm-up. Press and rub from the base of each finger to the tip.
  2. Switch hands, and repeat until you’ve done all 10 fingers. 

Rx: Do this on each finger on both hands a few times, and repeat three or four times a day or as needed.

Banish Back Pain

When you frequently have a sore back, it’s hard to find DIY solutions that help ease the pain, so this move is a great one to know. Since this reflex area covers your whole spine, this trick helps alleviate upper- and lower-back pain. Equipment: None.

How to do it…

  1. The outside of the thumb down to the wrist contains the spine reflex. Starting with the left hand, press there with the right thumb, inching along from the top of the thumb down to the wrist. 

2. Repeat on the right hand using the left thumb to press. Anywhere tender? That’s normal if you’re experiencing back pain. Spend more time on tender areas, but don’t apply a lot of pressure if it hurts. “No pain no gain” doesn’t apply with reflexology!

Rx: Do this on both hands, go down this area three or four times, and repeat three or four times a day.

Treat PMS or Menopause Complaints

This move, the Wrist Twist, helps women with symptoms such as cramping from PMS and hot flashes during perimenopause and menopause. The reflexes for the ovaries and uterus are on the sides of the wrist. Just don’t expect instant relief—addressing hormonal imbalances and reproductive issues takes time, usually three months of weekly sessions. I also use the Wrist Twist on men who have issues with their testes or prostate. Equipment: None.

How to do it…

  1. Using your right thumb and forefinger, create a loose bracelet around your left wrist. Rotate your left wrist and forearm.
  2. Do the same on the right wrist.

Rx: Rotate each wrist 20 times or so, two or three times a day.