What is reflexology?

Reflexology is a technique that applies gentle pressure to your feet or hands to bring about a state of relaxation and help the body’s own healing process.

Reflexology works in a similar way to acupressure and acupuncture. It is thought that there are certain points on the feet and hands that correspond to the organs and glands in the body. So by pressing and massaging these points it can stimulate energy pathways in the body. If any energy pathways are blocked reflexology aims to unblock them, allowing the energy to flow freely again which aims to restore balance to the body.

If your reflexologist feels tender, sensitive or crunchy sensations on the feet they say it can indicate that an area of your body is out of balance. By pressing the points and working them gently, reflexologists believe that it will kickstart your body’s natural healing powers.

Why people with cancer use it

Reflexology is one of the most popular types of complementary therapy in the UK among people with cancer.

There is some evidence that reflexology can help you:

  • relax and cope with stress and anxiety
  • relieve pain
  • lift your mood and give a feeling of well being

Some people think that reflexology can help:

  • boost the immune system
  • fight off colds and bacterial infections
  • reduce sinus problems
  • reduce back problems
  • change hormonal imbalances
  • overcome infertility
  • reduce digestion problems
  • reduce arthritic pain
  • reduce nerve tingling and numbness from cancer drugs (peripheral neuropathy)

But, there is little or no scientific evidence to prove that reflexology helps any of these conditions at the moment.

Side effects

Generally, reflexology appears to be safe and doesn’t cause many side effects. Because most people feel relaxed after a treatment you might feel a bit light headed. Some people say their feet feel tender afterwards, others can have an emotional response or need to pass urine more often.

Tell your reflexologist about any after effects that you have.

Who shouldn’t have reflexology

People with cancer must see reflexologists who have training or experience treating people with cancer. This is because there might be specific points on the feet that they need to avoid, or where they should only apply very gentle pressure.

People with diabetes should always ask their doctor before having reflexology. This is because it may interfere with drugs for diabetes.

If you have a pacemaker you need to tell your reflexologist.

Also check with your doctor or nurse before having reflexology if you have any of these conditions:

  • circulatory problems of the feet
  • inflammation or blood clots in the leg veins
  • gout
  • foot ulcers
  • fungal conditions of the feet such as athlete’s foot
  • thyroid problems
  • epilepsy
  • a low platelet count, which means you may bruise or bleed more easily

Research into reflexology for people with cancer

There is no scientific evidence to prove that reflexology can cure or prevent any type of disease, including cancer.

It is still a popular form of complementary therapy for people with cancer. Some studies have looked at using it to help with symptoms such as pain, sickness and anxiety.

It is difficult to see if reflexology has any effect for sure because:

  • there are mixed results
  • most studies have been small
  • some trials have not been well designed
  • it could be the attention of the therapist that helps people to feel relaxed, not the therapy itself

NOTE: This information has been taken from Cancer Research UK.