Both physical and emotional symptoms of chronic constipation were improved when a group of women with this condition received reflexology as part of a recent study.

“A pilot study of the effectiveness of reflexology in treating idiopathic constipation in women” involved 19 women diagnosed with idiopathic constipation, which is a symptom-based disorder that can adversely affect one’s quality of life. The subjects ranged in age from 22 to 75 and were selected from a four-to-five-month waiting list for treatment of chronic idiopathic constipation with biofeedback and behavioral management.

Each woman received one reflexology session, lasting 35 to 45 minutes, once a week for six weeks. The reflexology was administered on the subjects’ bare feet and was based on the Ingham method. These sessions began with a few minutes of foot massage on the right foot, followed by the application of pressure to every reflex zone on the foot, using a hooking technique with the thumb and fingers. The same sequence was then repeated on the left foot.

Outcome measures in this study were assessed and recorded at baseline, before the start of the first reflexology session and again after the intervention was complete. One of these measures was gut transit time, evaluated by tracking three sets of gut transit markers, ingested by the subjects at specific times, via an abdominal X-ray.

Other assessments included the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, to measure the possible psychological effects of the intervention, and the Short form 36, to evaluate the subjects’ quality of life.

Results of the research revealed 94 percent of the participants in this study reported their constipation to be “improved to some extent” following six sessions of reflexology. Ten of the subjects showed improved gut transit times, and two of the women had normal gut transit times after the intervention.

In addition, 10 of the study’s subjects demonstrated improved anxiety scores, and 11 of them demonstrated improved depression scores. As for quality of life, increases were seen in general health, mental health and vitality, with the latter improving significantly among the participants.

“This pilot study indicates that reflexology has the potential to compare well with the gold standard treatment for idiopathic constipation, [which is] biofeedback,” state the study’s authors. “This study has shown the potential benefit for treating idiopathic constipation with reflexology, a therapy that is much more widely available than biofeedback.”

Authors: Sue Woodward, Christine Norton and K. Louise Barriball.

Sources: Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, King’s College, London, United Kingdom; and Burdett Institute of GI Nursing, St. Mark’s Hospital, Harrow, United Kingdom. Originally published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice (2010) 16: 41-46.