Reflexology is a non-intrusive complementary health therapy, based on the theory that different points on the feet, lower leg, hands, face or ears correspond with different areas of the body.
Reflexologists believe that working these points or areas aids relaxation and helps improve well-being. Reflexologists work holistically with their clients and aim to work alongside standard healthcare to promote better health for their clients.
The art of reflexology is an ancient therapy that has been practiced for over 5000 years and was introduced to the western world over 100 years ago. Its theory is that by the application of pressure using different techniques on different extremities – feet, hand and face, the body is allowed to relax and re-balance.
There is only a very small body of research evidence for reflexology but what there is suggests that reflexology does indeed have an effect on relaxation and pain. The most likely route of action is through the relaxation of the body’s systems allowing for more efficient blood transport through the muscles and all other tissues of the body.
With ever increasing demands and higher levels of stress in everyday life, it is important for people to recognise the detrimental effect that this can have and to take action to address their own healthcare needs; as such, reflexology could be one of the ways you might employ to ease the stresses of modern life. Improved well-being is much more than simply the absence of illness; it also includes an improved frame of mind, better relationships with those around you and increased happiness.
A study of NHS UK cancer units in 2009 found that 62% offered reflexology as an addition to medical treatments to help patients cope with the side effects treatment and improve quality of life. A reflexologist provides comforting therapeutic touch together with empathic listening skills, which can allow time away from the day to day ‘normality of being a patient’ while allowing the body to relax and replenish itself under the re-balancing care of reflexology. Research studies have shown that reflexology shows tangible effects areas such as improved quality of life with increased relaxation, decreased anxiety and increased ability to cope being highlighted. Physical areas of improvement include reduced pain, increased appetite and freedom of breathing, improved bowel function, less nausea and better sleep. One of the qualitative studies of reflexology gave insight as to why it ranks so highly with patients with an elderly gentleman quoted as saying that ‘it was the only non-invasive thing he had had done to him all day’. While a study assessing the effects of reflexology on the psychological effects of cancer showed that reflexology was actually ‘clinically worthwhile’, which is a measure of whether or not a treatment should be provided within a health system.
Once the cancer has receded reflexology may also continue to be of support – a recent small study on a special reflexology technique for lymphoedema showed a dramatic change in volume of a swollen arm after breast cancer, a tantalising suggestion that the effects of reflexology may well be more than just making patients feel better.
Association of Reflexologists (AoR)
The AoR is a membership organisation that only has well-trained and insured reflexologists. It is a verification organisation for the CNHC and therefore shares the same high standards of membership as the CNHC does for regulation and is also one of the original member organisations in the Reflexology Forum. There is a handy find a reflexologist search on their website at www.aor.org.uk.
Contact: Association of Reflexologists Victoria House Victoria Street Taunton Somerset TA1 3FA
Telephone – 01823 351010
Research on the use of Reflexology
1. Use of reflexology in managing secondary lymphoedema for patients affected by treatments for breast cancer: A feasibility study.
Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2016 May;23:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2016.01.002. Epub 2016 Jan 15.
The aim of this feasibility study was to examine the use of reflexology lymphatic drainage (RLD) in the treatment of breast-cancer related lymphoedema (BCRL) with a view to further research.
An uncontrolled trial was conducted with 26 women who had developed lymphoedema in one arm following treatment for breast cancer. Changes in upper-limb volumes and in participant concerns and wellbeing were measured. Qualitative data were also collected.
A significant reduction in the volume of the affected arm was identified at follow-up compared to baseline. This reduction in volume appeared to be maintained for more than six months. Participant concerns were significantly reduced and their wellbeing significantly increased. No serious adverse effects were reported.
RLD may be a useful intervention for BCRL although the results could not be attributed to the reflexology intervention because of research design limitations. The main conclusion was, however, that there was sufficient evidence for further research using a randomized controlled trial.
2. A randomised, controlled trial of the psychological effects of reflexology in early breast cancer.
Eur J Cancer. 2010 Jan;46(2):312-22. doi: 10.1016/j.ejca.2009.10.006. Epub 2009 Nov 10.
Sharp DM1, Walker MB, Chaturvedi A, Upadhyay S, Hamid A, Walker AA, Bateman JS, Braid F, Ellwood K, Hebblewhite C, Hope T, Lines M, Walker LG.
To conduct a pragmatic randomised controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the effects of reflexology on quality of life (QofL) in women with early breast cancer.
PATIENTS AND METHODS:
One hundred and eighty-three women were randomised 6 weeks post-breast surgery to self-initiated support (SIS) (comparator intervention), SIS plus reflexology, or SIS plus scalp massage (control for physical and social contact). Reflexology and massage comprised eight sessions at weekly intervals. The primary end-point was 18 weeks post surgery; the primary outcome measure was the Trial Outcome Index (TOI) of the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy (FACT-B) – breast cancer version. The secondary end-point was 24 weeks post surgery. Secondary outcome measures were the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and the Mood Rating Scale (MRS).
At primary end-point, massage, but not reflexology, was significantly better than SIS on the TOI. Reflexology and massage were both better than SIS for MRS relaxation. Massage was better than reflexology and SIS for MRS easygoingness. At secondary end-point, reflexology, but not massage, was better than SIS on the TOI and MRS relaxation. There were no significant differences between reflexology or massage. There were no significant between group differences in HADS anxiety and depression. Self-reported use of out of study complementary therapies indicated that this was unlikely to have a significant effect on findings.
When compared to SIS, reflexology and massage have statistically significant, and, for reflexology, clinically worthwhile, effects on QofL following surgery for early breast carcinoma.