Dr. William Fitzgerald, an ear, nose, and throat specialist, first introduced reflexology in 1913. Initially called “zone therapy,” his technique was founded on the belief that pressure exerted on the feet, hands, or ears improves energy flow and restores balance in the body. Additionally, he proposed that the body was divided into 10 zones and applying gentle pressure on areas of the feet corresponded to relieving stress and pain in these particular zones of the body.
In the 1930’s, Eunice D. Ingham, a nurse and physiotherapist, modified Fitzgerald’s methods by mapping out detailed areas of the feet called reflex points which are linked to various organs and specific body parts. She also renamed the practice reflexology.
How does reflexology work?
The reflexologist’s thumb and fingers are used to apply pressure on the reflex points located primarily on the soles, tops and sides of the feet. Reflex points on the right foot correspond to the right side of the body and those on the left foot correspond to the left side of the body. Some practitioners may even use the hands or ears. Sessions typically last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. The procedure is painless, but some patients may experience a tingling sensation on other parts of their body when the reflex points are touched [i].
Reflexology for cancer patients
Reflexology has become increasing popular with cancer patients as a complementary therapy in conjunction with mainstream cancer treatment. It is said to reduce stress and promote relaxation and a sense of wellbeing.
There is limited evidenced-based research on reflexology in cancer care, but one recent study found that patients with advanced- stage breast cancer receiving chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy reported improved breast cancer specific health-related quality of life after receiving 4 weekly 30- minute sessions of reflexology [ii].
Is reflexology safe?
Therapy is noninvasive and safe for cancer patients undergoing treatment. Only trained professionals with experience in treating cancer patients should perform treatments. Reflexology should be avoided if there is swelling in the foot or lower leg. Due to the risk of fractures, patients with metastatic bone disease or fragile bones should avoid deep pressure. Additionally, patients should not have pressure applied to tumor sites or cancerous lumps.
It is important that all patients consult their oncologist or healthcare provider before starting or undergoing any complementary therapy.