Can reflexology really help relieve effects of certain medical conditions?

Fiona Mortimer-Wood

Fiona Mortimer-Wood - Credit: Archant

Complementary medicine may not appeal to everyone but it changed Fiona Mortimer-Wood’s life, she tells Ellen Widdup.

Fiona Mortimer-Wood and her children

Fiona Mortimer-Wood and her children - Credit: Archant

As a teenager Fiona Mortimer-Wood was struck down with a devastating muscle and skin wasting disease.

She became so weak she couldn’t even lift a kettle and would choke on her food because her throat muscles stopped working properly.

Specialists ran a series of tests and diagnosed her with dermatomyositis, an extremely rare condition brought on by stress.

There was no cure, they told her, but she set about trying to find a way to heal her own body and mind.

There began a journey of discovery into complementary medicine which led her in a direction which would shape her future and her career.

“I started to get ill straight after my A levels,” said the 40-year-old from Woodbridge. “My muscles visibly disappeared I had gradually adapted to it without realising how weak I was and how it was affecting me.

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“I couldn’t lift a kettle, turning the steering wheel in the car was very difficult – I could barely get up from the ground.

“It got more and more serious - and then when I found myself swimming in a pool and suddenly realised I didn’t have the energy to get to the side I knew I had to do something urgently.”

Fiona believes her condition, which generally only affects very young or very old people, was partly mind over matter.

“I had a tough time at school as a teenager,” she said. “I hated school and willed myself ill so I didn’t have to go. I truly believe I brought the illness on myself.”

With a new understanding of her own mortality, she became determined to fight the symptoms and after plenty of rest and recuperation she decided to explore alternative medicine.

As she got stronger she decided to take a journey to Nepal where she became engrossed in a book about Reiki she bought to read on the plane.

“Two weeks later I went to Goa and met a Buddhist monk who taught me how to do Reiki,” she said. “I then started exploring reflexology and found that combining the two had a profound effect on my health.”

Today Fiona is an expert reflexologist and runs a successful business - Energy Treatments – in Suffolk.

But how does this ancient and somewhat controversial treatment work? And can it work for you?

“For many people it is a revelation,” said Fiona, a mother of two. “They try it once and they are hooked. The benefits are very obvious right from the off. For me it was like someone had flicked on a light.”

Reflexology is a non-intrusive complementary health therapy. It focusses on different points on the feet and a theory that these pressure spots correspond with different areas of the body.

But this holistic therapy places just as much importance on the mind and the spirit as it does on the body. It is a treatment for the whole being not just targeting the symptoms like traditional Western medicine does.

The Association of Reflexologists describes the treatment as one which is tailored to the “whole person, taking into account both physical and non-physical factors that might be affecting your wellbeing”.

But using the treatment does involve a leap of faith.

Perhaps due to a lack of research there is scant evidence of its healing qualities. Nonetheless the ancient civilisations of Egypt and China were huge fans of the practice.

And a growing band of supporters in the West all say the same: “I don’t care what the scientists say, it worked for me.”

Fiona has seen the positive effects for herself.

“An MRI scanner shows increased blood flow to the part of the body being worked on through the feet,” she said. “I think in time science will catch up and there will be more and more evidence to prove the treatment works.

“After all, while there is no concrete scientific proof yet, the world’s leading brains used to think the Earth was flat.”

Fiona also practises Reiki – which is about transferring universal energy through the palms allowing self-healing.

“I truly believe that the power of the mind is monumentally important in one’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing,” she said. “I have been told that my muscle wasting disease could return but I am doing everything in my power to prevent that happening.

“Reflexology and Reiki, I believe, have all helped me to protect my immune system from becoming so low again that it may re-occur.”

“We spend a lot of time bothering about how we look physically but very little time concerning ourselves with how we feel within,” she added. “Holding on to angst and stress eventually manifests physically.

“And with a growing pressure on our NHS I believe people need to take ownership of their own health and wellbeing.”

A 90-minute reflexology session with Fiona costs £40.

And she promises: “The treatment does not tickle at all.”