The Provocation A Lands' End catalogue's two-page spread devoted to reflexology -- a scientifically unvalidated treatment that claims pressing on specific areas of the hands or feet can have a healing effect on other parts of the body. We couldn't help wondering if the retailer, long known for its practical if somewhat predictable sportswear, was stomping into unknown territory without a map.

The Claim "Treat your feet right with reflexology and feel better all over," proclaims the piece, offering up a colorful illustration linking parts of the foot to specific health conditions -- for instance, the big toe to headache, the ball of the foot to asthma, the pinky toe to toothaches. Readers are urged to contact the Las Vegas-based Reflexology Association of America (RAA) for more information or to get a referral. (Many Washington area spas offer reflexology as a type of massage, charging $60 to $100 for an hour-long session.)

Toeing the Line Lands' End spokeswoman Jackie Schutty said the piece ties into the June catalog's larger theme -- summer footwear -- but is not an endorsement of reflexology. "We weren't looking at it from a science perspective. Our customers just really like to see editorial copy in the catalogue," she said. The RAA provided the material, but did not pay to have the piece placed, she said. Bill Furlong, an RAA board member, defended the piece's claims: "The whole purpose of reflexology is to relax the body. . . . When the body is relaxed, the organs can function normally."

The Kicker "The idea that organs are represented on the feet is just utter nonsense," said Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist who runs Quackwatch.org, a Web site devoted to exposing questionable medical claims. The National Institutes of Health has dismissed a link between reflexology and asthma, but it's now funding a study to see if the treatment can reduce cancer pain.

-- Rita Zeidner

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