Reflexology is a form of massage therapy closely related to acupressure and isknown to have been practiced in ancient China1 with the original purpose of restoring the proper flow of life energy – known as “qi” (pronounced “chee”) – through its corresponding pathways (meridians) in the body. 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 the qi meridians. 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 across the top of your foot 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? Although the existence of qi itself has not been scientifically validated, the existence of the corresponding meridians have been validated (the scientific research behind the meridians is detailed in the acupuncture page of this website). Like all other sensory information, stimulation signals from reflexology massage sprint to the brain directly through the spinal cord.2 When the input from the spinal cord 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 amounts of neurotransmitters such as endorphins (which reduce pain), neuropeptides (which can reduce nausea and vomiting) and serotonin (which can reduce fatigue) depending upon the stimulation it receives. 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 . As a result there are a number of scientific investigations into the role of reflexology in cancer treatment which have yielded positive outcomes. For example:

These are only a smattering of the numerous studies which support reflexology as a valid therapy for cancer patients. One does not need to believe in the concept of qi to believe in the science of therapeutic touch. Although reflexology cannot cure cancer, it can certainly help alleviate many of the side effects caused by cancer treatments and increase your quality of life while you undergo treatment. 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, such as:

1 Reflexology was also practiced in ancient Egypt at around the same time.
2The 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.
3 The Effects of Food Reflexology on Anxiety and Pain With Breast and Lung Cancer (Stephenson, et al, 2000)
4The Effect of Reflexology on Chemotherapy-induced Nausea, Vomiting, and Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients. (Özdelikara , et al; 2017)
5The effects of foot reflexology on nausea, vomiting and fatigue of breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy (original article in Korean), Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2005)
6Use of reflexology foot massage to reduce anxiety in hospitalized cancer patients in chemotherapy treatment: methodology and outcomes (Rosanna Quattrin, et al, 2006)
7The Effect of Reflexology on the Pain-Insomnia-Fatigue Disturbance Cluster of Breast Cancer Patients During Adjuvant Radiation Therapy. (Tarrasch, et al, 2017)
8"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
9 Effects of Reflexotherapy on Acute Postoperative Pain and Anxiety Among Patients With Digestive Cancer, (Tsay, et al. 2008)