Reflexology Can Be Helpful for Cancer Patients [Study]

Michigan State University researchers claim that reflexology — a method of foot massage that is a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine — can be beneficial to patients diagnosed with cancer.

According to its proponents, reflexology, an ancient natural healing technique, stimulates specific points on the feet to improve the function and energy flow to corresponding organs throughout the body. It is also said to relax and recharge the body.

The study, which apparently is the first major study of reflexology as a companion to standard treatment protocols, followed 385 women who were being treated conventionally for breast cancer (i.e., with chemotherapy or hormonal therapy). Researchers interviewed the women about their symptoms at the beginning and then five and 11 weeks later. The patients were randomly assigned to three groups — those who received treatment from a certified reflexologist, those who got an ordinary foot massage, and those who just stuck with the conventional medical treatment.

A MSU report summarizes the findings as follows:

“[Researchers] found that those in the reflexology group experienced significantly less shortness of breath, a common symptom in breast cancer patients. Perhaps as a result of their improved breathing, they also were better able to perform daily tasks such as climbing a flight of stairs, getting dressed or going grocery shopping.”

MSU nursing professor Gwen Wyatt, the lead author of the study, remarked that this is a breakthrough for reflexology:

“It’s always been assumed that it’s a nice comfort measure, but to this point we really have not, in a rigorous way, documented the benefits. This is the first step toward moving a complementary therapy from fringe care to mainstream care.”

Wyatt admitted, however, that reflexology did not seem to help with the patients’ emotional issues such as anxiety or depression.

She did note that those patients who just got a plain-vanilla foot massage also reported less fatigue. As a result, “Wyatt is now researching whether massage similar to reflexology performed by cancer patients’ friends and family, as opposed to certified reflexologists, might be a simple and inexpensive treatment option.”

The MSU reflexology study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, was published in the November issue of the Oncology Nursing Forum. The study concludes that “reflexology may be added to existing evidence-based supportive care to improve [health-related quality of life] for patients with advanced-stage breast cancer during chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy.”

Have you ever had a reflexology treatment?

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