Reflexology and cancer


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Reflexology has been used for centuries. It is thought to have originated in the ancient Egypt. It is not a medical approach in the usual sense of the word but rather a holistic approach that is complementary to more traditional conventional medicine.

 It is a touch therapy which works by applying pressure and massage to certain areas on your feet and hands (it is more common to treat feet than hands). The reflexologists believe you have 'reflex areas' in your feet that relate to individual parts of your body. And thus by applying pressure to certain reflex areas, certain bodily functions or corresponding organs can be stimulated. It is one of the most popular types of complementary therapies in the UK among cancer patients. As it is a complementary therapy it should not be used as an alternative to conventional medicine but rather as an additional therapy to conventional treatment.

How does reflexology work?

The human body is divided into different zones represented by a point in the foot or hand. Our feet and hands have nerve endings. Reflexology works by stimulating these nerve endings which results in promoting relaxation, improving circulation, stimulating vital organs in the body and encouraging the body's natural healing processes. Unlike conventional medicine, reflexology works on the underlying problems within the body and through the body's nervous system.

Can reflexology help cancer patients?

Reflexology aims to help muscles relax and encourage the body to use its own resources more effectively. As a result, reflexology is believed to help with a wide variety of conditions and disorders including:

  • coping with stress and anxiety, reducing tension
  • pain relief
  • help lift patient's mood and give them a feeling of well-being

Reflexology will not fix serious health problems but if used regularly it will enhance any other treatments you are receiving by keeping the circulation stimulated and the lymph system active. You should also experience feelings of vitality and well-being after reflexology treatment which encourages the healing process throughout the body.

Several studies have looked at using reflexology to help cancer patients with symptoms such as pain, sickness and anxiety. We cannot say whether or not reflexology has a great effect on cancer patients as these studies involved small numbers of patients and the results are mixed. Some studies suggest that reflexology can reduce pain and anxiety in patients with metastatic cancer.

What does the treatment involve?

First of all you have to find a qualified reflexologist. The best way to do so is to contact one of the reflexology organistaions and ask for a list of reflexologists in your area ( Ask the therapist whether they have experience with treating people with cancer and how many years of training and pactice they have had.

On your first visit, the therapist will ask you general questions about your health, medical history and lifestyle which will help him assess whether or not you are a suitable candidate for reflexology treatment. It is not recommended for people with certain conditions, e.g. people with diabetes, heart conditions, pregnant women, people with circulatory problems, gout, foot ulcers, thyroid problems, epilepsy, etc. It is not advisable to be treated by reflexology for people with low platelet count either.

Reflexology treatment session usually lasts between 45 to 60 minutes. Six weekly sessions are commonly recommended for optimum results although this may differ to meet every individual's needs. You will be asked to remove your shoes and socks and sit on a reclining chair. The treatment involves light but firm massage to the feet. It is possible that there will be quite a dramatic reaction to the first treatment in various forms such as increased bowel movements, cold type symptoms or skin problems. This is a very healthy sign which means that the treatment has encouraged the release of harmful toxins from the body. During treatment some areas of the foot may feel a little tender and these will relate to the problem areas in the body. Your therapist may advise you how to treat a certain disorder at home by showing you the exact areas to press. 


It is a good idea to ask how much a session will cost you before you book it and to get some idea of how frequently you may need the therapy. Some complementary therapies can be very expensive if used over a long period of time. Some hospitals and cancer support groups offer complementary therapies free or for a small charge. It is advisable to find out about such institutions before you book a session with an expensive therapist.

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