Reflexology is a homeopathic massage practice that dates back to 300 BC in China. This therapeutic method stimulates predefined pressure points on feet and hands. The controlled pressure may be effective for promoting good health and relieving symptoms of stress, injury, and illness.
Reflexology uses pressure and touch on feet, hands, and ears to stimulate nerve pathways and promotes relaxation throughout the body. It is not the same as a foot massage which promotes relaxation through muscle and tissue manipulation. Instead, the practitioners touch specific zones in feet that corresponds to reflex points in other areas of the body. Touching the feet stimulates the nerve pathway that facilitates relaxation elsewhere.1
Cancer patients facing stress, fatigue, or nausea may turn to integrative treatment such as reflexology to ease the symptoms. Can reflexology support relaxation and comfort? What does the research indicate?
While research indicates possible benefits, the reviewers of the research have noted that the quality of reflexology studies is mixed and more high quality research is needed.
One large review by Kunz and Kunz (2008) summarized 168 research studies and concluded that reflexology may reduce pain, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and improve quality of life for cancer patients.2
In a controlled study with 87 patients, Hodgson (2000) demonstrated a 100% improvement in the reflexology group in quality of life categories of appearance, appetite, breathing, communication with doctors, family and nurses, concentration, constipation/diarrhea, fear of future, isolation, mobility, mood, nausea, pain, sleep/tiredness. The placebo group reported 67.6% improvement in these categories.3
Kim et al., (2010) reviewed one randomized clinical trial and three nonrandomized controlled clinical trials, the only studies out of 60 potential studies to meet their criteria of controlled quantitative trials with physical or psychological outcomes. The studies showed significant reduction in pain, nausea/vomiting, and fatigue with reflexology and improved sleep and mood. All four studies suggested beneficial effects of reflexology for women with breast cancer.4
The review notes that limitations of these studies were small sample sizes, inadequate control for nonspecific effects, and short follow-up. There is a need for more research in this area so that we can help lessen the side effects and provide support our cancer patients.
What has been the experience of our colleagues when it comes to reflexology?
- University of Minnesota. What Does the Research Say about Reflexology? 2016
- Kunz B, Kunz K. Evidenced Based Reflexology Research: For Health Professionals and Researchers. 2016 Jun 28.
- Hodgson H. Does reflexology impact on cancer patients' quality of life? Nurs Stand. 2000 Apr 19-25;14(31):33-8.
- Kim JI, Lee MS, Kang JW, et al. Reflexology for the symptomatic treatment of breast cancer: a systematic review. Integrative Cancer Therapies. 2010; 9(4): 326-330.