Reflexology, also known as “zone therapy,” is a form of therapeutic massage known to have been practiced in ancient China and Egypt. The idea behind reflexology is that there are locations on your feet, hand, head, and ears which are connected to other locations of your body via channels known as meridians. Meridians are pathways through your body associated with the stimulation of particular organs or organ systems. Although the art of acupuncture has a similar basis of meridians, the meridians used in reflexology do not always coincide with those used for acupuncture.

Reflexology is performed by applying specific massage or pressure to reflex points corresponding to the location needing treatment. For example, it is held that a point at base of your toes is connected to the breasts. Therefore a reflexology practitioner (a.k.a. “reflexologist”) may work on that area of the foot to stimulate the meridian associated with the healing responses in the breasts if you are a breast cancer patient.

Is reflexology validated through scientific research? The existence of the meridians have been scientifically proven as detailed on the acupuncture page of this website. And, like all other sensory information, signals caused by the stimulation of reflexology sprint directly to the brain via the spinal cord.1 When the input reaches the brain it immediately activates areas of the brain devoted to the reception of, and response to, sensory stimulation. Oftentimes the brain's response is to release various neurotransmitters such as endorphins (which reduce pain), neuropeptides (which can reduce nausea and vomiting) and serotonin (which can reduce fatigue) depending upon the stimulation received. Although there is still much to learn about the relationship between reflexology and the brain it is known that this is the basic process that makes reflexology work. There have been a number of studies in the role of reflexology with cancer treatment which have given this natural treatment validation. For example:

These are only a scant few of the numerous medical studies supporting reflexology as a valid therapy for cancer patients. Although reflexology cannot cure cancer, it can certainly help reduce or eliminate many of the side effects caused by cancer treatments and increase your quality of life in the process. Additionally, reflexology has the bonus benefits of being drugless, free of side effects, and natural.

However, as with any other type of therapy or treatment, reflexology is not without its precautions. Before receiving therapy from a reflexologist there are a few health concerns that must be considered. For example:

If your doctor gives you the go-ahead for reflexology therapy be aware that the United States does not require reflexologists to carry a license or certification. Therefore, you want to be sure your therapist is well trained and not just some self-educated hack who many not know what he or she is doing. It is best to look for a licensed/certified massage therapist who has additional training in reflexology. You may also choose a therapist who was trained at a reputable holistic school – make sure that he or she had “hands-on” reflexology training as part of their education. Also, be sure the therapist has taken continuing education courses over the years as techniques and methods may improve and vary over time; you want a therapist who cares enough to keep up to date for their clients.

1The spinal cord attaches directly into your brain and is the main conduit for delivering sensory information to your brain. This is why the spinal cord branches out into so many nerve pathways throughout your body.
2 The Effects of Food Reflexology on Anxiety and Pain With Breast and Lung Cancer (Stephenson, et al, 2000)
3The Effect of Reflexology on Chemotherapy-induced Nausea, Vomiting, and Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients. (Özdelikara , et al; 2017)
4The effects of foot reflexology on nausea, vomiting and fatigue of breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy (original article in Korean), Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2005)
5Use of reflexology foot massage to reduce anxiety in hospitalized cancer patients in chemotherapy treatment: methodology and outcomes (Rosanna Quattrin, et al, 2006)
6The Effect of Reflexology on the Pain-Insomnia-Fatigue Disturbance Cluster of Breast Cancer Patients During Adjuvant Radiation Therapy. (Tarrasch, et al, 2017)
7"Reflexology Used for Cancer Patients," Internet Health Library, October 11, 2000; Review of "Foot Massage: A nursing intervention to modify the distressing symptoms of pain and nausea in patients hospitalized with cancer," Grealish, L. Lomasney, A., Whiteman, B., Cancer Nurse 2000, June;23(3):237-43
8Effects of Reflexotherapy on Acute Postoperative Pain and Anxiety Among Patients with Digestive Cancer (Tsay, et al, 2008)
9Health-related Quality-of-life Outcomes: A Reflexology Trial with Patients with Advanced-stage Breast Cancer (Wyatt, et al, 2012)
10Acupuncture and Reflexology for Chemotherapy-induced Peripheral Neuropathy in Breast Cancer (Ben-Horin, et al, 2017)