Both precision reflexology and sham reflexology were found to provide significant decreases in pain intensity, along with several other symptoms, among people with multiple sclerosis, according to recent research.

The study, “Reflexology for the treatment of pain in people with multiple sclerosis: a double-blind randomised sham-controlled clinical trial,” involved 71 subjects. The study’s inclusion criteria included an age of 18 to 75 years, a definite diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) and pain greater than four on a visual analog scale of at least two months duration.

Each study participant was randomly assigned to receive either precision reflexology or sham reflexology once a week for 10 weeks. Subjects were scheduled to attend these 45-minute sessions at the same time of the day.

Those in the precision reflexology group received a reflexology sequence based on the work of Eunice Ingham and designed to stimulate all key reflex points on the feet that are associated with organs in the body.

Subjects in the sham reflexology group received a standardized foot massage with less pressure, for a lower level of stimulation to any reflex points. These sham sessions did include the majority of the reflex areas on the feet, but those points representative of common areas of pain among MS patients were carefully avoided.

Assessments of outcome measures took place at baseline, before the start of the study; immediately after the intervention ended, at week 10; then again at weeks 16 and 22. The primary outcome for this study was the measurement of pain on a visual analog scale.

At the end of the intervention period (week 10), researchers discovered a significant decrease in pain among MS patients in both the precision reflexology group and the sham reflexology group, as compared to baseline measures. Furthermore, this significant reduction in pain was still present for participants in both groups after the intervention had ceased, at the 16-week and 22-week marks.

“Our findings … demonstrated a significant reduction in pain in both groups, which may suggest that the complex array of symptoms associated with MS may be more responsive to any form of treatment, whether specialized or not,” state the study’s authors. “The beneficial effects observed appear to be relatively long lasting in that statistically significant improvements were still observed three months after cessation of treatment.”

In addition to easing pain among participants, both the precision and sham reflexology also were found to provide relief from other symptoms related to MS, such as fatigue, depression, disability and muscle spasm.

“The improvements observed following the sham reflexology may be explained by a possible placebo effect,” state the study’s authors, “or the stimulation of reflex points in the feet using nonspecific massage.”

Authors: C.M. Hughes, S. Smyth and A.S. Lowe-Strong.

Sources: School of Health Sciences and Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Ulster, Shore Road, Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland. Originally published in Multiple Sclerosis (2009) 15(11): 1329-1338.