If you have a cough, you may be tempted to rub Vick’s VapoRub on your chest. But did you know it can also be effective if you rub it on your feet?
As Joe Graedon, M.S., of People’s Pharmacy explains, Vicks can work against coughs when applied to the feet, since the soles of the feet are full of sensory nerves. When Vicks is applied to the feet, the sensory nerves are stimulated and a message is sent to the spinal cord and brain to calm the cough. Graeden says his explanation is only a theory. To date, there are no scientific studies showing why (or if) Vicks is effective when applied to the feet, although countless people on People’s Pharmacy and elsewhere on the Internet rely on this home remedy.
Graedon’s theory follows the logic of Spirituality Health, which claims that “a foot massage can do wonders for coughs.” According to this website, massaging the entire foot with warm sesame oil, starting at the sole of the foot and working up from the heels to the toes, can be a powerful defense against colds and coughs.
The science behind Spirituality Health and Graedon’s claims is based on the practice of reflexology, which involves applying pressure to specific points on the feet to treat symptoms elsewhere in the body. Reflexology and Health identifies the pads under the toes and the area directly under the sole of the foot as spaces that, when massaged, can suppress coughing.
Although many people have successfully treated coughs by rubbing their feet with Vicks, many others have denied this home remedy. In an article in Parents magazine, for example, Dr. Satya D. Narisety claims that Vicks works because the menthol odor tricks the brain into believing that the nasal and upper airways are open. For this deception to work, you have to be able to smell the menthol. According to Dr. Narisety, Vicks on the feet only works if you can smell the menthol and is most effective when the smell is strongest when placed near the nose. For this reason, it is conventionally recommended to rub Vicks on the chest, where the odor is detectable at a safe distance from the nose and mouth.
There is only one way to find out if this home remedy works or not. Try it for yourself.