This article was published in Here’s Health, July 1994 edition.

Gary Swain had put up with crippling pain in his neck and shoulders, along with migraine attacks, for most of his adult life. Reaching a dead end with orthodox medicine, he went to see reflexologist Karen Hansford.

I have had pain in my head and neck for about 25 years – all my adult life in fact. I did quite a lot of boxing as a young man so received a fair amount of pounding, and I used to work on the river – carrying giant oxygen cylinders on my shoulders. I think it was this that first strained my neck.

Then, when I was 36, I had a motorcycle accident. I was riding along when a car pulled out suddenly in front of me: I shot over its top, came down on the left side of my face and lost consciousness. I recovered, but from then on the chronic pain in my head, neck and back just got worse and worse.

I reached the point where I couldn’t go to sleep at night or get up in the morning. Everything ached so much – my head, neck, shoulder, small of my back, knees. I had to roll out of bed and gradually uncurl. It was agony.

A couple of years ago I reached rock bottom. I had nursed my mother through the last six months of her life, lost my job as a van driver and was evicted from my home. I felt physically and mentally devastated. My GP prescribed antidepressants on top of the painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs I was already taking, but nothing helped very much, and I didn’t like taking so many pills.

Finally, in 1992, my doctor referred me to the arthritis clinic at the local hospital. I was diagnosed as having rheumatoid arthritis in my neck and told that this was causing the frequent migraines. The hospital doctor said that I would have to live with it, there was nothing they could do – “but don’t let yourself become an invalid”, he added. He suggested I take paracetamol and wear a surgical collar when the pain got bad. But I found this very uncomfortable, and if anything it made it worse!

It was Chris, my partner, who first suggested reflexology. A work colleague of hers had recommended Karen Hansford, and I felt so miserable and desperate that I was willing to give anything a go. So in June 1993 Chris rang up and arranged a first appointment for me. Chris said she would like to come along and Karen was quite happy about this.

The house was in a quiet suburban street. Karen opened the door: she was wearing a white uniform and I was immediately reassured by her calm professional air. She showed us into the clinic, which had a light and airy feeling. The atmosphere felt friendly, yet peaceful. There were diagrams of feet on the walls and a large reclining chair in the middle.

Karen began by asking me why I had come and a whole series of questions about my medical history, including injuries, accidents, illnesses, operations and my general state of health. She said she would need my doctor’s permission before treating me if I was currently receiving treatment from him, but by that time I was only taking non-prescription painkillers.

I noticed that the discussion was more detailed than any I’d had with doctors, and that Karen listened closely to my answers with a warm, attentive air. I liked her manner and felt I was being treated as an equal, which I haven’t always felt with medical practitioners. Some of the questions did surprise me though: she asked how many cups of tea I drank each day, for example, and I shamefacedly had to admit it was about 18 to 20.

After this, Karen explained how reflexology works. She told me it divides the body into 10 zones, running lengthwise along the body, each of which corresponds to an area on the foot (five on each foot). A technique of pressure massage on various parts of the foot can help clear congestion and remove toxin deposits in corresponding organs or parts of the body.

Karen was quite straight – she said she did not want to raise my hopes and that reflexology wasn’t a cure for all ailments, but hopefully it could help. Then she asked me whether I would like to go away and think about it, or have the first treatment straightaway.

I decided to go ahead there and then. Karen asked me to take off my shoes and socks and sit on the couch. With the back tilted up, she placed a cushion behind my head and then she put on some lovely relaxing music and asked if I felt comfortable. I told her I did – very.

First of all, Karen looked at my feet. She said feet tell a story and she could see, just by looking at mine, that I used to be a smoker and that I had had my wisdom teeth removed. Then she cleaned my feet with cotton wool pads dipped in witch hazel which felt cold but quite nice.

After this she started manipulating my feet. Karen told me that sensitivity in the area of my big toe could point to congestion in the neck, head and brain area, so she paid extra attention to the big toe. She asked me to tell her if I felt any pain or pressure so she could build up a picture. I did feel tingling sensations in my arms and hands – which Karen said could be due to increased circulation and improving energy flow – but little pain. It was very gentle – in fact I felt so relaxed that I just wanted to go to sleep.

Karen is also an aromatherapist, and after manipulating my feet she rubbed some lavender and chamomile oil into them. She said this would be relaxing and ease any pain or discomfort. She also blended some oils for me to use in the bath at home, and showed Chris how to rub them gently into my neck. She then suggested I try decaffeinated tea, and didn’t eat too late at night.

At the end of the visit I felt enormously tired. It seemed as if it was the first time I had completely unwound in years. That night was the first sound, peaceful night’s sleep I’d had for as long as I can remember. Chris said that I even stopped snoring.

Karen had mentioned that my body had a lot of congestion in it and warned that I might have a headache the next day – a symptom of my body expelling the released toxins. She was right, but it didn’t develop into a migraine.

I booked up a series of eight sessions. After the second and third visits, I also got a headache, but each lasted a shorter time. Then they stopped altogether. Karen said that she was working at clearing the congestion in my body and getting it to work in harmony again.

The effect seemed to be accumulative over the following weeks and months, despite the fact that I wasn’t able to stick to the decaffeinated tea. Gradually the pain went away and now my body has stopped hurting all the time. The migraines never came back – I haven’t had one since starting reflexology. I sleep better and can get in and out of bed without having to roll. My digestion has improved too.

Chris used to be the one who always had to paint the ceiling and tricky places, but now I can get into all the awkward corners, too. Chris says I’m a different person – she can’t believe I’m the same man I was a year ago.

Interview by Francesca Wolf.

Photographs/Pip Rook

This article was published in Here’s Health, July 1994 edition.




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