Word on Health

Word on Reflexology

Our grateful thanks to Tracey Smith from the Association of Reflexologists for her input in this weeks report.

What is Reflexology?  It is 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. There are claims that reflexology provides no more therapeutic benefit than the placebo effect - however, there is some evidence to show the benefits it provides cancer patients to relieve pain, reduce anxiety and stress as well as lift mood.

Did you know?

  • 100 million people in the European Union use some form of complementary therapy
  • £6 billion a year is spent on complementary therapy in the UK
  • Taiwan holds the world record for highest number of Reflexology treatments given at one time – 1,000!
  • The oldest documentation of the use of reflexology was found in Egypt at approximately 2500 BC, discovered in the tomb of the Egyptian physician, Ankhmahor! 
  • A whole lot of walking!  On average, your feet take 10.000 steps every day, that’s 3.000.000 in a year, and you’re expected to have walked 4 times around the globe - 115.000 miles – by the time you reach the end of your life
  • More than half the bones in the human body are in the hands and feet
  • You have 125,000 sweat glands in each foot
  • The skin on your feet is 20 times thicker than on any other part of your body.
  • It takes 18 years for a child's feet to mature
  • Babies feet are made of more cartilage than bone
  • The average foot expands about 5% in volume as the day goes on. Always shop for shoes in the afternoon

A brief history of reflexology whilst the art of reflexology dates back to Ancient Egypt, India, and China, this therapy was not introduced to the West until Dr. William Fitzgerald developed 'Zone therapy'. He believed that reflex areas on the feet and hands were linked to other areas and organs of the body within the same zone. In the 1930's, Eunice Ingham further developed this zone theory into what is known as reflexology. Her opinion was that congestion or tension in any part of the foot is mirrored in the corresponding part of the body.

Reflexology should not be used as an alternative to seeking medical advice.  Well trained reflexologists do not claim to cure, diagnose or prescribe. Reflexology, it is said, is a very individual treatment which is tailored to you as a whole person, taking into account both physical and non-physical factors that might be affecting your wellbeing. Some people find it works for them - some don't. 

Reflexology & Cancer  According to Cancer Research UK  "There is no scientific evidence to prove that reflexology can cure or prevent any type of disease, including cancer. But it is very popular among people with cancer. 

Some studies have looked at using reflexology to help with cancer symptoms such as pain, sickness, and anxiety. Results from these studies are mixed and most involved small numbers of patients so it is difficult to see if the reflexology had any effect. Some studies had no control group, or the control group did not have a similar intervention to the reflexology. Again, this makes it difficult to see if it is the reflexology that is causing any difference between the groups. It could be the attention of the therapist that helps people to feel relaxed, for instance, rather than the reflexology itself.

A systematic review in 2008 looked at all the research into using reflexology for any condition from 1996 to 2007. Among the 5 studies suitable for review, the only condition for which reflexology showed a benefit was urinary symptoms due to multiple sclerosis. The researchers advised that routine use of reflexology in other conditions is not recommended. 

The review was updated in 2011 and included 23 studies. 9 studies showed that reflexology seemed to work well and 5 showed that it didn't work. Some of the other studies were not well designed and it wasn't possible to be sure whether reflexology worked or not. Overall, the review seemed to show that reflexology can have some positive effects for people with diabetes, premenstrual syndrome, cancer, multiple sclerosis, an overactive bladder, and dementia. But the evidence is weak and we need more research. 

A study in 2007 looked into partners giving reflexology treatment to people with cancer that had spread. 86 patients took part. In one group patients' partners were taught how to give reflexology by a qualified reflexologist. The partners then gave the patient a 30-minute reflexology session. In the other group, the partners just read to the patients for 30 minutes. In the reflexology group, the patients had significantly reduced pain and less anxiety. But this was a small study and we need more research before we will know if reflexology really does help to reduce pain and anxiety in people with cancer." 

Finding a qualified and experienced reflexologist Click here to use the NHS Choices website to find a local reflexologist or complementary therapist.  The Association of Reflexologists offers a find a reflexologist service - fully qualified therapists who are properly insured. For additional peace of mind when looking for any complementary therapist you can also check if the practitioner is also registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council. 


Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.