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