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Structural Reflexology, a Healing Modality for Chronic Foot Pain


Holistic Practitioner Spotlight with Debra Bernath, Massage Therapist, Bodyworker, and Reflexologist.

We are speaking with Debra Bernath on how Structural Reflexology helps her clients become pain free.

Tell Us a Story About a Client with Chronic Foot Pain and How You Helped.

Many clients come to see me due to foot pain and discomfort, believing that they suffer from Plantar Fasciitis.  Often diagnosed as well as misdiagnosed, Plantar Fasciitis is an inflammatory condition of the fascia on the sole of the foot which causes pain on the bottom surface of the foot, arch, or heel. It is very uncomfortable to walk and is often worse in the morning or after sitting for awhile.

While there are many other unexplained foot pains that clients come to see me for besides Plantar Fasciitis, this was the case recently.

Over the quarantine last Spring, I was unable to physically see clients, so I offered 20 minute complimentary online self-care sessions to help people suffering with anxiety, aches and pains. Cathy, a new client in her mid 40s and a mother of five children, found me online and scheduled a 20 minute session. Her issue was on her right foot, a painful big toe that didn’t bend. Cathy also had a history of low back pain and complained that her neck frequently hurt in the morning when she woke up.

The acute discomfort in her foot appeared the morning of her final job interview for a flight attendant when she wore the recommended low heeled shoes. She found them very uncomfortable and challenging to walk in, but she was happy that she was accepted for employment!

Joyfully flying now for a year and a half and the pain in Cathy’s right foot remains. Required to wear the low heeled pump flight attendant footwear when on the job, her choice of shoes when she is not working is wide flat shoes, often athletic shoes.

Once I was able to reopen my practice with Covid protocols set in place, we scheduled a time for Cathy to come physically see me.

The symptoms of pain in Cathy’s foot as well as neck pain indicated to me that there was compensation going on in her feet and lower leg. For her first session we did a 90 minute Structural Reflexology® session.  I’ll explain this and how it differs from Traditional Reflexology.

Traditional Reflexology

  • Is an ancient modality based on the concept that the feet, hands, face and outer ears reflect the entire body.
  • By using special finger, thumb and hand techniques on reflexes and zones located on the feet (also the hands, face and outer ears), there is an affect on the entire body.
  • It works via the nervous, circulatory, lymphatic and energy systems.
  • When the nervous system is deactivated and allowed to relax and the circulatory system is enhanced, allowing for nutrition to the distal cells, the entire body becomes deeply relaxed and nourished.
  • When the body is in this relaxation state and responds, healing is optimized throughout the body systems.
  • When energy pathways are stimulated and flow is encouraged, this also is beneficial for the entire body.
  • It is excellent for stress reduction, emotional issues, digestive and other body imbalances.

Structural Reflexology®  goes a step further.

I have been a student of Geraldine Villeneuve who is the creator of Structural Reflexology®.

  • It is the practice of integrating foot reflexology with anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology.
  • The focus is on tension sites found in the feet.
    • These sites are a product of local muscle and ligament strain which cause some of the 26 bones in each foot to move out of alignment.
    • As a result, compensation occurs in the feet and throughout the entire body.
  • A Structural Reflexology® session addresses tension sites in the lower leg and feet that cause discomfort in the feet and throughout the body.

Those little feet do a lot to:

  • Support the body above
  • Keep balance
  • Enable mobility

When there is pain in the foot, it’s very probable that there is strain in the muscle and ligaments in the foot and lower leg. Neck pain, back and shoulder pain can be due to compensation and imbalance in the feet.

Cathy had both neck and back pain. From what she explained to me about her painful foot and waking up with neck pain, I immediately considered her shoe size and that her feet were not functioning optimally. Because her big toe (this area corresponds to the neck) was not flexing well, this indicated to me that her neck pain could be related to the toe.

What had Cathy tried before seeking you out?

Previously for this problem, Cathy had gone to a podiatrist and an orthopedist. Both recommended surgery, medication for arthritis and also cortisone shots. She didn’t like the idea of medications and having surgery would also be complicated for her. What would be the outcome? How long would she miss work? Before going down that path, Cathy wanted to make sure what would be the best option for her.

Cathy actually preferred to take a more natural approach. She spoke to a friend about her foot discomfort who recommended that she find a certified reflexologist. So she went online and searched for a reflexologist near her location and found me.

How did you arrive at your course of treatment?

I assess and gather knowledge of how to proceed. Here’s what happens in the first 90 minute session of Structural Reflexology®:

  • Feet are measured, both toe to heel and the arch and width of foot
  • I take ink prints of the client’s walking steps. The active walking ink prints allows us to see where compensation is happening in the feet.
  • I assess posture, ankle, feet while standing and walking to see how she positions her feet.
  • I do more assessing with her lying on a massage table, observing and palpating for bunions, calluses, tone, strength of toes, range of motion, and more.

All of this gives me information about what is going on in the feet and where compensation is taking place.

What was the outcome of the Structural Reflexology services you provided?

Here is what occurred in subsequent sessions:

  1. After assessment, I did a full session working on relaxing the tension sites in the lower leg and foot, utilizing  both traditional reflexology techniques as well as Structural Reflexology® techniques. With Cathy lying on her back, I began with doing foot mobilization.
  2. Cathy then turned over face down for more foot mobilization techniques.
  3. Certified Reflexology does not include full body work. I am, however, also a Licensed and Certified Massage Therapist which allows me do work on the back, hips, and legs.
  4. I instructed Cathy in some daily exercises to do after the session.
  5. I was able to determine if Cathy was wearing the wrong shoe size and we discussed changing shoe sizes and also what kind of shoes would be a better fit. We also discussed shoes that would not be of benefit her.
  6. Immediately following the session, I then had Cathy walk to get feedback if she noticed any differences in her feet from before the session. I also observed her walking to see if there was a difference in her body movement from before the session.

What was the followup?

Many times one session is enough to obtain relief. But depending on their issues, clients often choose to return.

Cathy had been faithfully doing the recommended exercises and was looser. By her third session, the pain in her foot was significantly reduced and occurred much less frequently. She admitted her neck was better too!

Why and When Did You Choose the Holistic, Integrative, or Natural Health Path?

I had many friends with chronic health issues that Western Medicine often calls syndromes and cannot explain. Intuitively, I always thought there was another path to healing besides pill taking. Chinese Medicine was very interesting to me as well as the practice of Qigong.

My journey with healing began in the early 90’s. I was in Asia traveling for a year after graduating with a BFA in Textile Design. While I was in China I had acupuncture for my sinus infection and in Hong Kong I had Korean doctors give me a “Qi” (energy) massage. Both these experiences were phenomenal and I felt completely different and better after these sessions.

When I returned to the states to begin my career in NYC, I never forgot my experiences in Asia and the treatments I received. Once I landed my first job, I learned about a talk in Chinatown about Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the middle of a winter storm I went to this talk and it was an “AHA” moment. It made complete sense to me what this Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine who was also a Qigong master was saying. He showed us how to feel “Qi” and demonstrated some techniques that I grasped easily. All I knew, was that I had to study with him. So I did! My first modality was Qigong Meridian Therapy which I still offer to this day and incorporate in all my work. Then I studied reflexology and massage.

What Lessons Have Your Work and Personal Experiences Taught You and What Has Been the Affect On  Your Lifestyle?

Wow! That is a big question. There is a saying in this profession,

” You give a session, you get a session.”

I meet wonderful people of all kinds, ages and types. It amazes me how unique everyone is, yet how similar they are in their desire to feel better. I know how fortunate I am to be able to do what I do. I learn so much from each client.

I know how important living a balanced harmonious life is in this stressful world we live in; it can be challenging to remain peaceful. Stress is most often behind many ailments people have. What I do interrupts stress. Interrupting stress allows for healing.

In order for me to be a good practitioner, it is necessary for me to work on myself, keep my balance, my alignment, my well-being. The kind of clients that find me are those that know how important self-care is.


My training began in 1994 with Qigong: Qigong Meridian Therapy (Chinese massage), Medical Qigong, Dragon’s Way Qigong and WuMing Qigong Instructor.

Then I studied Reflexology beginning in 2005 (Feet, Hand, Face and Ear). I am ARCB certified (American Reflexology Certification Board).

I entered Massage School in 2005, graduating in 2007. I am NY and NJ Massage Licensed and Nationally Certified for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.  I have taken many classes to enhance my training and is required for Continuing Education requirements. Some of the training has been Perinatal Massage, Structural Reflexology® Manzanares Method of Reflexology, and several others.

Debra Bernath LMT, Board Certified in Massage, Bodywork and Reflexology
Energy Pathways to Harmony LLC
Maplewood, NJ United States

Visit Debra’s Website

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