In a study of young women with dysmenorrhea, or menstrual pain, 10 sessions of reflexology, provided during two consecutive menstrual cycles, significantly decreased both the intensity and duration of menstrual pain.

The study, “Comparing the effects of reflexology methods and Ibuprofen administration on dysmenorrhea in female students of Isfahan University of Medical Science,” involved 68 students with primary dysmenorrhea, ranging in age from 18 to 25.

The subjects were randomly assigned to either the reflexology group or the ibuprofen group. Those in the reflexology group received 10 40-minute sessions of reflexology during two consecutive menstrual cycles, for a total of 20 reflexology sessions overall.

The reflexology intervention would begin about 10 days before the probable start of each woman’s menstrual cycle. During the reflexology sessions, the practitioner spent 20 minutes on each foot for a total of 40 minutes per session. No reflexology was administered during the participants’ third consecutive menstrual cycle, in order to explore whether the previous reflexology intervention had any lasting effects.

Subjects assigned to the ibuprofen group were given 10 400-milligram capsules of ibuprofen and instructed to take them once every eight hours for three days—one day before the start of their menstrual cycle and on the first two days of menstruation. This was repeated for three consecutive menstrual cycles.

The main outcome measures for this study was severity of dysmenorrhea, which was measured using the Standard McGill Pain Questionnaire, a visual analog scale and pain rating index. Using these evaluation tools, participants rated the severity of their dysmenorrhea before the start of the study and again after each of three consecutive menstrual cycles.

Results of the research showed that both ibuprofen and reflexology resulted in a significant reduction in pain intensity among the subjects for all three menstrual cycles. However, when comparing the reflexology group to the ibuprofen group, the reflexology group showed a greater reduction of pain intensity and duration, even though reflexology was not administered during the third menstrual cycle.

“Comparing the two groups showed that reflexology was more effective than ibuprofen in reducing pain intensity and duration,” state the study’s authors. “Therefore, considering that reflexology is a noninvasive, easy and cheap technique, it seems that it can replace anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to avoid their adverse side effects.”

Authors: Mahboubeh Valiani, Elaheh Babaei, Reza Heshmat and Zahra Zare.

Sources: Department of Midwifery, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Isfahan University School of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran. Originally published in December 2010 in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 15, 371-378.