Acupressure and reflexology are both bodywork techniques which involve applying pressure to specific points on the body for the purpose of addressing health complaints, but these techniques are radically different. Acupressure involves the whole body, and it has thousands of years of tradition in Asia behind it, while reflexology involves primarily the feet, and it was developed in the 20th century.
Acupressure relies on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). While practitioners in the West may offer acupressure independently as a form of therapeutic bodywork, traditionally in Asia it is offered as part of an array of options, combined with prescriptions for herbs and consultations about diet and lifestyle. Practitioners of acupressure believe that by targeting specific points on the body, they are encouraging the flow of chi, or life force; since health conditions are supposed to be caused by an imbalance of chi, acupressure is used to correct that imbalance to make the patient feel better.
Reflexology is believed to date back to ancient Egypt. Hieroglyphics reveal that medical practitioners worked on hands and feet of patients as a treatment. Modern reflexology was first used by Dr. William Fitzgerald, Dr.Shelby Riley and Dr. Eunice D. Ingham in the early 1900s. Dr. William Fitzgerald realized through his practice as an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist that applying pressure on specific zones and points reduced pain and helped treat underlying conditions. Dr. Shelby Riley expanded on this work and Dr. Eunice D. Ingham developed the theory that reflex points on the feet correlate to specific organs of the body. Modern practitioners of reflexology apply these findings in manipulation of the feet, and to a lesser degree, the hands and ears, to improve health.
From the point of view of the client, acupressure and reflexology may appear very similar. However, from the point of view of the practitioner, the techniques are quite different. Both are rooted in Asian tradition. However, reflexology practitioners tap into the flow of chi by manipulating the feet whereas in reflexology, pressure points are believed to improve the function of specific organs. In addition, practitioners generally work on these techniques exclusively and the pressure points in reflexology are different from those used in acupressure.
For clients who are interested in exploring non-invasive forms of bodywork, reflexology can sometimes be a good way to start. It is very relaxing, and it doesn't involve contact in any areas of the body which might feel awkward, such as the stomach. If clients like reflexology, they can also experiment with acupressure, which covers the whole body; if acupressure is performed by a TCM practitioner, the client will also receive a clinical consultation along with recommendations for herbs and other treatments to address underlying health problems. Both techniques are generally suited for all although pregnant women should consult with their doctor before undergoing either treatment.