A new study, published in the Oncology Nursing Forum, suggests that reflexology, a type of specialized foot massage, may relieve symptoms cancer patients experience. The study was led by Michigan State University's Gwen Wyatt, a professor in the College of Nursing.
This was the first large scale, randomized study of reflexology as a complement to cancer treatment. "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.
Reflexology is based on the knowledge that stimulating specific points in the feet can improve the function of corresponding organs, glands, and other parts of the body. "Reflexology comes out of the Chinese tradition and out of Egypt. In fact, it's shown in hieroglyphics. It's been around for a very long time," said Wyatt.
The study included 385 women undergoing chemotherapy or hormonal therapy for advanced-stage breast cancer that had spread beyond the breast. The women were broken into three groups: the first group received treatment by a certified reflexologist, the next group got a foot massage (placebo), and the last group received standard medical treatment and no reflexology.
Wyatt and her team talked with participants about their symptoms before beginning the study, and checked in with them at weeks 5 and 11.
Results in the reflexology group included less shortness of breath, and because of that, they were better able to climb stairs, get dressed, or go grocery shopping.
Wyatt was surprised to find the results of the reflexology to be mostly physical, and not psychological. "We didn't get the change we might have expected with the emotional symptoms like anxiety and depression. The most significant changes were documented with their physical symptoms," said Wyatt.
Other unexpected results was the reduced tiredness experienced by the foot massage group, or the placebo group, especially since the reflexology group did not report similar findings. Wyatt is now researching if foot massage provides similar results as a simple and inexpensive option for cancer patients.
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