A great number of clinical studies have now been conducted into the effectiveness of reflexology as a treatment. Here are summaries of just a few.
Further research studies can be seen under Articles.
“Using Reflexology to Relieve Chronic Constipation” (from the Danish Journal of Nursing, 24, June ’92)
This was a Pilot Study: 20 women, 30-60 years of age, defecation interval two days or more, suffered from constipation from 5-54 years with an average of 24.6 years. Treatment procedure: per person: 15 free treatments (2 per week for 4 weeks, minimum 2 days between each treatment, and then one treatment each week for 7 weeks)
|Frequency of defecation-average||4.1 days||1.8 days|
|Normal stool consistency||Nil||50%|
|Reduction in use of laxatives||55%|
Other health problems were reported by 95% of the women and 80% said that these health problems had changed for the better.
Headaches and Migraines
“Headache/Migraine – Has Reflexology an Effect?” by Leila Eriksen
Study: 220 patients over a maximum of 6 months (average 10 treatments each) and again 3 months after treatments ended, with patients filling out diaries. The majority of the 220 patients were 25-54 years; 33% had previously experienced alternative treatment with success; 63% had headaches for more than 9 years, 71% for more than 6 years.
At final treatment: 23% were cured, 55% were helped which equals a positive effect on 78% (25% from the tension headache group were cured and 20% from migraine group). At the time of follow-up only 23% of the migraine patients had no effect. Also at the follow up:41% obtained a better life quality, 53% felt physically better, 50% psychologically better.
Randomized Controlled Study of Premenstrual Symptoms Treated with Ear, Hand and Foot Reflexology by Terry Oleson, PhD and William Flocco “Obstetrics & Gynecology”
To determine whether reflexology therapy – the application of manual pressure to reflex points on the ears, hands, and feet that somatotopically correspond to specific areas of the body – can significantly reduce premenstrual symptoms compared to placebo treatment.
Thirty five women who complained of previous distress with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) were randomly assigned to be treated by ear, hand, and foot reflexology or to receive placebo reflexology. All subjects completed a daily diary, which monitored 38 premenstrual symptoms on a four-point scale. Somatic and psychological indicators of premenstrual distress were recorded each day for 2 months before treatment, for 2 months during reflexology and for 2 months afterwards. The reflexology sessions for both groups were provided by a trained reflexology therapist once a week for 8 weeks, and lasted 30 minutes each.
Analysis of variance for repeated measures demonstrated a significantly greater decrease in premenstrual symptoms for the women given true reflexology treatment than for the women in the placebo group.
These clinical findings support the use of ear, hand and foot reflexology for the treatment of PMS (Obstet Gynecol 1993; 82:906-11).
Reduction of Symptoms
|Symptom||True Reflexology||Placebo Reflexology|
|Nervous or Anxious||36%||24%|
|Depressed or Sad||66%||24%|
|Forgetful or Confused||76%||25%|
|Critical of Self & Others||68%||36%|
|Tired or Fatigued||27%||8%|
|Difficulty Falling Asleep||33%||0%|
From the Division of Behavioural Medicine, California Graduate Institute, Los Angeles; and the American Academy of Reflexology, Burbank, California. This study was funded by private contributions to the California Graduate Institute and the American Academy of Reflexology.
Expectant Mothers Helped by Reflexology
Pregnant women given 10 foot reflexology sessions from 20 weeks into their pregnancies to term experienced a better labor time than textbook figures. The average for those receiving reflexology work was: first stage, 5 hours; second stage, 16 minutes; and third stage, 7 minutes. This compared to textbook figures of 16 to 24 hours’ first stage, and, 1 to 2 hour’s second stage. In addition, 89.0% of the women experienced a normal delivery. (1) One study found that women who received 4 or more sessions experienced less analgesia use and more forceps deliveries. In comparison to the control group who received no reflexology treatment, they showed no difference in onset of labour and duration of labour. (2) Questions have been raised about validity of this study: “The findings should not be taken as particularly significant clinical value since some of the women received only one session of reflexology at 39 weeks.”
Reflexology during labor
Research demonstrated that reflexology given to women during labor showed a 90% effective rate as a pain killer during delivery. (3); Another study showed an effective analgesia rate of 94.4%. (4)
Women in the foot reflexology group of one study experienced an average birth process of 2.48 + 1.48 hours versus the control group (intravenous drip of 10% glucose plus a vitamin C injection) with an average birth process of 3.32 + 1.19 hours (4)
Reflexology was applied in two 30 minutes sessions to women diagnosed with primary inertia during labor during a research study. Assessment of dilatation of the cervix showed that 70% of them made progress when treated with reflexology. In the control group, 38% of women offered extra supportive midwifery care made progress. Under usual care, they would have been offered unpleasant and painful oxytocin augmentation to aid in labor. (5)
Research showed that, among women given reflexology work during labor, 11 of the 14 experiencing retention of the placenta after giving birth avoided an operation to correct the situation. (3)
Lactation in new mothers
Research showed that new mothers who received reflexology work initiated lactation in 43.47 hours (+12.39 hours) and in comparison to the control group average of 66.97 hours (+28.16 hours). At 72 hours satisfactory lactation was documented in 98% of the foot reflexology group and 67% of the control group. Reflexology work helped avoid use of drugs in lactation that may be harmful to the baby. (6)
In a controlled study of postpartum women experiencing anxiety and depression, six hours of reflexology work demonstrated a significant difference for foot reflexology with traditional Chinese medicine foot bath group when compared to control groups. (7)
In another study, postpartum women given six hours of foot reflexology work with traditional Chinese medicine foot bath showed a significant difference in: appetite; lactation; anxiety and depression scores when compared to the control group. (158)*+
Research showed that post partum women recovering from Cesarean section showed a significantly shorter first voiding time when receiving foot reflexology or machine (electric foot roller) foot reflexology as compared to the control group. (9)
Post partum women recovering from Cesarean section showed a significant difference in time to first defecation when receiving reflexology for three days as compared to the control group. (10)
(1) Dr. Gowri Motha and Dr. Jane McGrath, “The Effects of Reflexology on Labour Outcome,” Forest Gate, London,
England, Nursing Times, Oct. 11, 1989
(2) McNeill JA, Alderdice FA, McMurray F., “A retrospective cohort study exploring the relationship between antenatal
reflexology and intranatal outcomes,” Complementary Therapeutic Clinical Practice 2006; 12: 11925.
(Queen’s University, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Belfast, Ireland) (PMID: 16648089)
(3) Sorrig, Kirsten, “Easier Births Using Reflexology,” Danish Reflexologists Association, Research Committee Report,
(4) Zhang Changlong, “The application of foot reflexology in relieving labor pains,” China Reflexology, Centre du
Documentation du Groupes d’Etudes et de Recherches en Acupuncture, Registre des essais comaratifs randomises en
acupuncture publies en 2000-2001, March 1 2001
(5) Clausen J, MÃ¸ller E. En randomiseret undersÃ¸gelse af zoneterapi ved inerti og retentio placentae
(A randomised (blinded, controlled) trial of reflexology in inertia). Ã…rhus Kommunehospital Afd Y8, 1992.
(6) Siu-lan, Li, “Galactagogue Effect of Foot Reflexology in 217 Parturient Women (milk secretion / lactation in new mothers),”
(19)96 Beijing International Reflexology Conference (Report), China Preventive Medical Association and the Chinese Society
of Reflexology, Beijing, 1996 p. 14
(7) Peng Guizhi, Qiu snow-sheung, Meng Li-fang, Zhou Ying, Wei Dan He, “Post-natal care and intervention on anxiety,
depression impact study,” China’s Health (medical research) 2007 14
(8) Peng Guizhi, Liao Tao, Meng Li-fang, Wang Yuan-, Wei Jihong, Qiu snow-sheung, Wei Dan He, Zhou Ying, “Study
for the effect of recovery for puerperium women treated Chinese native medicine foot bath combined with full foot
bottom massage,” Nurse Education magazine, 2007 23
(9) Zhongcuifang, Huang Lihong, HE Miao East, Zhou, Wen-Cheng Peng Pai, Hsiao-Hui Lee, Bao Jinlian, paragraph
Fortunately, Wen-Jie Li, “Foot Massage on postpartum urinary system rehabilitation research,” Maternal and Child
Health Care of China, 2003, No. 09
(10) “Foot after cesarean section on the recovery of gastrointestinal function; the Influence of Foot Soaking and
Massage on the Recovery of Digestive System after Cesarean,” Contemporary nurses (Academic Edition) Today Nurse
2004, Section 01
“Vision Deficits” Reflex Area Work Linked to Visions Centers of the Brain
In an fMRI study by Hong Kong researchers, reflexology technique stimulation of the eye reflex area activated a region of the brain matching acu-point stimulation of stroke patients with vision defects but not the visual part of the brain. The researchers worked under the hypothesis that the corresponding (visual) cortex would be activated.
Researchers applied reflexology technique to the eye reflex area of the left foot at bases of second and third toes of the left foot of ten healthy volunteers. They found that the visual cerebral cortex was not activated. Areas activated included: left frontal lobe (strongest activation), cerebellum, left insula, and temporal lobe. Reflex area stimulation was consistent with results from an fMRI study of acupuncture. When the eye acu-point was stimulated in stroke patients with vision deficits areas of the brain areas activated were the frontal lobe and insula. Another fMRI study of acupuncture showed that stimulation of the eye acu-point of healthy individuals activated the visual cortex.
Speculation about this result for reflexology work begins with the observation that the locations of the eye and ear reflex areas are anomalies among reflex areas. The foot and reflexology charts technique reflect the body, except for these two areas. Their location at the bases of the toes reflects a direct reflection of the tops of the shoulders reflex area. Reflexologists achieve results for eye-related problems when working this area. Strictly speaking, however, an eye reflex area exists in the toes themselves, matching other reflex areas as a direct reflection of the body. Charts by Anne Lett, British, reflexology educator and author, (Reflex Zone Therapy for Health Professionals, p. 143) show an eye reflex area on the tops of the second and third toes just below the nail. She also shows a visual cortex reflex area on the sole of the foot in the second and third toes at the distal joint. These match the eye reflex areas and visual centers of Hanne Marquardt (Reflexotherapy of the Feet, p.p. 44-45) If the fMRI study were conducted testing these areas would the visual cortex by activated?
The fMRI study showed activation of areas of the brain with reflexology work: Left frontal lobe (strongest activation) (movement planning, polysensory, premotor area, language related movement (writing)); Cerebellum (conducts impulses to cerebral cortex; posture, balance, and coordination of movements); Left insula (pain, emotion, homeostasis); Temporal lobe (bilateral superior gyrus, Brodmann’s Area 22) (sensory pathways, memory, auditory or language functions).
The strongest activation following reflexology technique application to the eye reflex area of the left foot was in the left frontal lobe. Researchers state that, “This area may be related to the cross-modal transfer of the massage [reflexology) stimuli and the visual information as a part of the polysensory areas.” Other sources include functions of the frontal lobe as: “Body’s orientation in space” and “fine movements and strength of the arms, hands and fingers.” (http://www.neuroskills.com/tbi/bfrontal.shtml)
Activation of the cerebellum occurred during two fMRI studies, reflexology work applied to the inner corner of the big toe and the eye reflex area. We have speculated about the role of the big toe in walking and the role of the cerebellum in coordinating such activities. We now an unusual response resulted from technique applied to the eye and ear reflex areas (bases of second third and fourth toes) during our work with paralysis. Such work prompted movement of the fingers of the quadriplegic’s opposite hand as if playing a guitar. For the two paraplegics, such work prompted a spasming of the opposite foot. Over time, the spasming become movement into the position of dorsiflexion or plantar-flexion. During dorsiflexion the foot is flexed into a 90Å¡ ready for the heel strike phase of a foot step. Plantar-flexion is a toe-point of the foot, the toe-off position of a foot step. This observation has been repeated during one-time work with a variety of paralyzed individuals.
Tang M.Y., Li G., Chan C.C., Wong K.K.K., Li R. and Yang E.S., Vision Related Reflex
Zone at the Feet: An fMRI Study, 11th Annual NeuroImage Meeting. 2005, 1431. (Publication No. : 102226)