It is commonly acknowledged that reflexology increases circulation of the blood. To grasp how that happens, we have to look at the role of the capillaries in circulation, since it is the capillaries that reflexologists are primarily accessing when they work.
But, we’ll start at the heart.
Leaving the heart, blood exits through the largest of the blood vessels – the aorta.
The aorta branches off into smaller arteries, that branch off into still smaller arterioles, and eventually into the smallest of the blood vessels: the capillaries.
Interesting fact: A capillary is only wide enough for cells to pass through one at a time, single file. They measure about 5 micrometers. (As a comparison, a strand of human hair measures about 17 micrometers.)
Through a magical process called osmosis, the oxygen and nutrients pass out of the capillaries to flush and nourish the nearby cells. (This is happening all over the body, by the way, not just in the feet and hands.)
Interesting fact: Every cell in the body is within three cells of a capillary. That gives you a picture of just how many capillaries there are in the body.
The blood, now deoxygenated and carbon dioxide-rich, must begin its return journey back to the heart and lungs to once again be replenished.
And that’s where the capillaries come into play again. They connect the arterioles to veins; the vessels that carry the blood back to the heart.
Interesting fact: Capillaries far outnumber arteries and veins in the body. There are an estimated 10 billion capillaries in the body, extending for nearly 30,000 miles.
Capillaries transport the blood to venules, which branch into larger veins and ultimately into the largest vessel of the venous return system, the vena cava, which delivers the blood back to the heart.
Interesting fact: This return-trip happens three times every minute!
Here’s how reflexology plays into this important sequence of events:
When reflexologists apply alternating pressure to the feet or hands, we manually help to push nutrients from the capillaries to the nearby cells and help to manually pump the veins – by compressing and relaxing the vessels – so that they may move the blood back up to the heart.
The capillaries are where it all happens; where the exchange of gases and nutrients take place – and reflexologists are assisting in that through the various techniques that apply alternating pressure.
So although those capillaries may be small, their job is uber-important. I sometimes like to visualize them at work when I’m thumb-walking.
Oh, and one last Interesting Fact: For every pound of fat gained, your body must create 7 new miles of new blood vessels! This puts tremendous pressure on the heart, increasing the likelihood of heart attack or stroke.