Ancient foot massage technique may ease cancer symptoms

November 13, 2012, Michigan State University

Reflexology involves stimulating specific points on the feet to improve functioning in other parts of the body.
(Medical Xpress)—A study led by a Michigan State University researcher offers the strongest evidence yet that reflexology – a type of specialized foot massage practiced since the age of pharaohs – can help cancer patients manage their symptoms and perform daily tasks.

Funded by the and published in the latest issue of Oncology Nursing Forum, it is the first large-scale, randomized study of reflexology as a complement to standard , according to lead author Gwen Wyatt, a professor in the College of Nursing.

"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," Wyatt said. "This is the first step toward moving a complementary therapy from fringe care to mainstream care."

Reflexology is based on the idea that stimulating specific points on the feet can improve the functioning of corresponding organs, and other parts of the body.

The study involved 385 women undergoing or hormonal therapy for advanced-stage that had spread beyond the breast. The women were assigned randomly to three groups: Some received treatment by a certified reflexologist, others got a foot massage meant to act like a placebo, and the rest had only standard and no foot manipulation.

MSU's Bott Building for Nursing Education and Research features a reflexology path that students, staff, faculty and visitors can walk to relieve stress and improve overall health. Credit: G.L. Kohuth

Wyatt and colleagues surveyed participants about their symptoms at intake and then checked in with them after five weeks and 11 weeks.

They found that those in the reflexology group experienced significantly less , a common symptom in . 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.

Wyatt said she was surprised to find that reflexology's effects appeared to be primarily physical, not psychological.

"We didn't get the change we might have expected with the emotional symptoms like anxiety and depression," she said. "The most significant changes were documented with the physical symptoms."

Also unexpected was the reduced fatigue reported by those who received the "placebo" foot massage, particularly since the reflexology group did not show similarly significant improvement. 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.

Reflexology did not appear to reduce pain or nausea, but Wyatt said that could be because the drugs for combating those symptoms are generally quite effective, so the women may not have reported them to begin with.

Although health researchers only recently have begun studying reflexology in a scientifically rigorous way, it's widely practiced in many parts of the world and dates back thousands of years.

"Reflexology comes out of the Chinese tradition and out of Egypt," Wyatt said. "In fact, it's shown in hieroglyphics. It's been around for a very long time."

Explore further: Study finds reflexology affects the hearts of non-cardiology patients

Related Stories

Study finds reflexology affects the hearts of non-cardiology patients

July 15, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- A three-year study by researchers at the University of Stirling has found that reflexology to the upper half of the left foot (the heart reflex point) had an effect on the hearts of healthy volunteers.

A third of women with secondary breast cancer are needlessly living in pain, research shows

November 22, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- New research released today by Breast Cancer Care and the University of Southampton reveals that more than a third (34 per cent) of women with secondary breast cancer are unnecessarily living with uncontrolled ...

Yoga improves quality of life in women with breast cancer undergoing radiation therapy

May 18, 2011
For women with breast cancer undergoing radiation therapy, yoga offers unique benefits beyond fighting fatigue, according to new research from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Recommended for you

A molecule for fighting muscular paralysis

November 19, 2018
Myotubular myopathy is a severe genetic disease that leads to muscle paralysis from birth and results in death before two years of age. Although no treatment currently exists, researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), ...

Use genetic data to predict the best time of day to give radiotherapy to breast cancer patients, say researchers

November 19, 2018
A new clinical study led by the University of Leicester and conducted in the HOPE clinical trials facility at Leicester's Hospitals has revealed the pivotal role that changing the time of day that a patient receives radiotherapy ...

New dual-action cancer-killing virus

November 19, 2018
Scientists have equipped a virus that kills carcinoma cells with a protein so it can also target and kill adjacent cells that are tricked into shielding the cancer from the immune system.

New blood test detects early stage ovarian cancer

November 19, 2018
Research on a bacterial toxin first discovered in Adelaide has led to the development a new blood test for the early diagnosis of ovarian cancer—a disease which kills over 1000 Australian women and 150,000 globally each ...

New drug discovery could halt spread of brain cancer

November 19, 2018
The tissues in our bodies largely are made of fluid. It moves around cells and is essential to normal body function.

From the ashes of a failed pain drug, a new therapeutic path emerges

November 16, 2018
In 2013, renowned Boston Children's Hospital pain researcher Clifford Woolf, MB, BCh, Ph.D., and chemist Kai Johnsson, Ph.D., his fellow co-founder at Quartet Medicine, believed they held the key to non-narcotic pain relief. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.