A new study provides evidence that reflexology is effective in combination with traditional medical treatments to help chemotherapy patients feel better and cope better with their disease.

“Use of reflexology …  to reduce anxiety in hospitalized cancer patients in chemotherapy treatment: methodology and outcomes” examined the effectiveness of reflexology in patients undergoing their second or third chemotherapy cycles. This study’s purpose was to verify whether reflexology decreased anxiety and to produce a methodology for other studies.

Thirty adults (11 men and 19 women) admitted to the oncology unit at a scientific research hospital in Italy participated in the study. All subjects had one of the following types of cancer: gastrointestinal, genitourinary, breast, lymphatic, head/neck or orthopedic. The subjects were assigned to either the treatment group, which received reflexology (15 subjects), or the control group, which did not receive reflexology (15 subjects).

The study period was two days during the patients’ hospital stay. Treatment in the experimental group consisted of one 30-minute session of reflexology performed on both feet by a nursing student. Beginning with the left foot, the nursing student followed a standardized sequence (for 15 minutes on each foot), noting the patient’s facial expressions. Room conditions were standardized for all subjects: door closed and lights dimmed. The nurse providing the treatment did so at least one hour after a meal, washed her hands before treatment, and ensured that her hands were warm. All patients removed any jewelry, refrained from using lotion, and assumed a supine position on the bed. A pillow or soft roll was placed under each patient’s knees.

Using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), the reflexology subjects’ self-reports of anxiety were recorded before, 30 minutes after and 24 hours after each session. The control subjects completed the STAI at the beginning and the end of the two-day treatment period.

In the treatment group the average decrease was 7.9 points on the state-anxiety scale; in the control group the average decrease was statistically insignificant: 0.8 points. The authors assert that these results support the use of reflexology in combination with traditional medical treatments. However, they advise that the nurse providing the session be properly trained and willing to teach this technique to the patient’s family members.

The authors conclude that reflexology is useful in helping cancer patients receiving chemotherapy feel better and cope better with their disease.

Source: DPMSC School of Medicine, University of Udine, Italy. Authors: Quattrin, R.; Zanini, A.; Buchini, S.; Turello, D.; Annunziata, M. A.; Vidotti, C.; Colombatti, A.; Brusaferro, S. Originally published in Journal of Nursing Management, Vol. 14, No. 2, March 2006, pp. 96-105.