Combining Reflexology and Herbal medicine approaches
Recently I was struck by the story of a woman in the United Kingdom who came for Reflexology on her spouse’s recommendation. At first she said there was nothing wrong with her. She just wanted to see what Reflexology was like.
During the course of her conversation with the practitioner, she admitted to “constant” back pain and pain in right hip. Then it turned out, she also had severe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a very stressful job with a lot of overtime, a poor diet leading to weight gain, and virtually no social life – she spent her free time sleeping. Oh, and she was a smoker—which would be an immediate red flag for me.
The first treatment session addressed her back and hip pain. The reflex points on the foot for the lower lumbar spine, the right hip and knee, the upper spine (C7/T1) and other thoracic vertebrae reflex points were all tender. Gland reflex points including the pituitary, pineal, adrenals and ovaries were sensitive, as was the entire large intestine area. This was in keeping with the client’s complaints of back pain and IBS. Her lungs also appeared congested, especially on the right, probably as a result of the smoking.
It wasn’t until the 6th session that the client began admitting to emotional stress due to her job and lifestyle. (I’ve heard that emotional problems may show up in the abdomen, reflecting an inability to “digest” a life situation.) She was open to addressing her emotional stress through breathing exercises at home.
By the time she received her 8th treatment session, the client’s back and hip pain and IBS symptoms were all gone. She continues to receive occasional reflexology “tune-ups.”
Of course, a practitioner can suggest further lifestyle and diet changes to stabilize and improve the client’s health. And alternative medicine practitioners in the UK are more likely to recommend herbal preparations in conjunction with treatment sessions. So what would that look like?
Treating the client holistically means taking into account lifestyle choices, stressors at work and home, past medical history, attitude, diet, and more. Including goals: that is, how important is it for them to get well? If the client is used to abdicating responsibility to a medical professional, they’re not going to like what I have to say. I can help with recommendations, but the client is the only one who can heal herself / himself.
When addressing the whole person, there’s no single remedy for a common disorder. For example, IBS. One person may present with abdominal pain, cramping, sudden bouts of diarrhea, bloating and gas. Another may alternate between constipation and diarrhea, with no abdominal pain but frequent headaches.
Nearly all IBS symptoms arise as a result of some trigger. That may be a wheat or dairy allergy, too much caffeine, loss of “good” gut flora following a round of antibiotics, or emotional upset following an accident or life change.
What herbal actions will address IBS?
Here’s what my herbal “bible,” Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine by David Hoffmann, has to say [page 277]:
- Astringents reverse the diarrhea and reduce any pathological mucus production.
- Bitters promote appropriate digestive secretions, and often will normalize bowel function on their own.
- Anti-inflammatories reduce localized mucosal reactions.
- Carminatives help with any flatulence or colic.
- Antispasmodics other than carminatives may be indicated if cramping is severe.
- Vulneraries [wound healers] are indicated if there is any hint of damage to the lining of the colon.
- Nervines help ease background stress.
- Aperients [mild laxatives] may be indicated temporarily if constipation is present. Do not use strong herbs, however, as there may be a rapid swing back to diarrhea.
So let’s plug some herbs into those categories.
Astringents: Bayberry (Myrica cerifera) is specific for diarrhea. Yarrow (Achillea millefolia) addresses chronic diarrhea, and Plantain (Plantago major) is recommended for both diarrhea and hemorrhoids.
Bitters: Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is considered a mild bitter, Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and Yarrow are both strong bitters. NOTE: strong bitters are contraindicated in pregnancy.
Anti-inflammatories: Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) is specific for abdominal colic. Also in this category are Chamomile, Yarrow and Plantain.
Carminatives: Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a popular remedy for bloating and gas. In the UK, enteric-coated capsules of peppermint oil are a popular remedy for IBS; the capsules don’t dissolve until they have passed into the intestines. Chamomile is another effective digestive herb.
Antispasmodics: Peppermint is specific for spasmodic pain in the bowels. Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) addresses cramping along with its effective nervine actions. Other remedies include Wild Yam and Yarrow.
Vulneraries: Chamomile is effective for wounds both internal and external. Plantain works effectively as well, adding a demulcent (smoothing and soothing) action in case of constipation.
Nervines: Chamomile has a mild tension-relieving effect, as does Peppermint. Skullcap is one of the most effective nervines for stress and tension, and is also hypotensive and anxiolytic.
Are you seeing some repeat entries among the herbs? This helps the herbalist narrow down the prospective formula to use the herbs that cover a number of actions AND best address the client’s needs.
And what will that formula be? A tea, a tincture, a combination of powders in a capsule? That’s beyond the scope of this discussion. But I will say that it depends on two things: what form is most effective, and what is the client most likely to comply with!
If you want to know more – or have a consultation – please get in touch with me by email or phone (404-406-5204).