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Ancient Alternative Therapy May Ease Cancer-Related Pain

reflexology, cancer care, complementary and alternative medicine

Reflexology is a therapy involving the physical application of pressure to the feet with the premise that massaging certain zones positively affects other areas of the body. A small study funded by the National Cancer Institute found that the ancient therapy may be an effective way to deal with cancer-related pain.

Researchers with Michigan State University divided 385 women diagnosed with advanced breast cancer into three groups. One group received treatment by a certified reflexologist for 11 weeks. The second group received foot massages by someone not certified in reflexology. The third group received standard pain treatment that didn’t involve any sort of alternative therapy.

Gwen Wyatt, a professor in the college of nursing and lead author of the study published in the latest issue of Oncology Nursing Forum, reports that those who received the reflexology treatment were able to return to their day-to-day activities, such as getting dressed or going grocery shopping, better than those cancer patients not receiving the massages. Patients in the experimental group reported less shortness of breath and less pain and fatigue. However, the team was surprised to learn that reflexology did not appear to improve mental stress, such as depression or anxiety.

"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," said Wyatt.

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Reflexology comes out of the Chinese tradition and has been shown in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The therapy is growing increasingly popular across Europe and Asia as both a complement to other treatments and as a preventive measure. It was introduced to Americans in 1917 by Dr. William H. Fitzgerald, frequently referred to as the “father of reflexology.” He described ten vertical zones that extended the length of the body. Application of pressure to certain zones corresponded to the location of an injury that could serve as pain relief.

The ancient therapy is being studied as a complement to Western medicine in many areas of health. Recently, a study from the University of Stirling found that reflexology massage benefitted cardiology patients, presumably by increasing blood flow to the heart.

Jenny Jones PhD, from the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health says, "In our experiment with healthy people there was an inexplicable change in the heart function which occurred only when the heart reflex point area was massaged. All the patients (also) found the treatment to be really relaxing, so it seems to be a safe and useful relaxation tool for cardiac patients to use.”

To find a Reflexology Therapist, look for one certified by the American Reflexology Certification Board (ARCB) which recognizes those who practice on a professional basis and have passed an exam ensuring their knowledge of reflexology techniques. The Reflexology Association of America also has a list of professional practitioners in your area, plus a guide to licensing requirements by each state.

Michigan State University, “Ancient Foot Massage Technique May Ease Cancer Symptoms”, published November 12, 2012.
University of Minnesota – Taking Charge of Your Health