Reflexology study shows positive results

Reflexology is a type of digital pressure massage that is aimed at stimulating "reflex points" on the ear, hand or foot theorized to correspond with specific areas and organs of the body. Reflexologists claim to be able to locate areas of weakness or pathology by testing reflex points, and to be able to relieve physical complaints by stimulating such points. NCAHF conducted a pilot study in 1981 which found that reflex points did not correspond with self-reported medical conditions within two years of the time. At that time we designed a test of the therapeutic value of reflexology, but did not carry it out. Now we read of a study, with a design nearly identical to a test that we had planned, which purports to have effectively relieved premenstrual syndrome. In the test, 35 women who complained of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) were randomly assigned to ear, hand and foot reflexology or placebo therapy done on sham reflex points. Subjects kept a daily record on 19 somatic symptoms selected from previous PMS research questionnaires. The treatment group reported significantly fewer symptoms than the placebo group, and these benefits persisted for 2 months after treatment. The placebo group reported that they thought they were receiving genuine reflexology, The authors note that it was very difficult to develop a credible placebo control group which may have been the study's flaw. Normally, reflexology is soothing, but the placebo treatment was described as "either overly light or very rough." We believe that the differences could simply have been differences in the quality of the massage being administered. As in applications of sham versus genuine acupuncture, the therapists are likely to vary the quality of the procedure in accordance with their own expectations regarding the study's outcome. This study supports the value of massage for PMS but does not validate the alleged connection between reflex points and body organs. (Oleson and Flocco, "Randomized controlled study of premenstrual symptoms treated with ear, hand and foot reflexalogy," obstetrics & Gynecology, 1993;82:906-11)

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