When reflexology was applied to areas of the feet reported to correspond to the heart, the cardiac index of 16 healthy people decreased significantly, whereas no such change occurred when reflexology was applied to other points on the feet, according to recent research.
The study, “Reflexology has acute (immediate) haemodynamic effect in healthy volunteers: a double-blind randomized controlled trial,” involved 11 healthy men older than 18 and five healthy postmenopausal women, all of whom were “reflexology naïve.” The mean age of the 16 volunteers was about 38.
All participants received two separate reflexology sessions, each of which lasted four-and-a-half minutes. During one of these sessions, standardized Ingham reflexology techniques were applied to the upper part of the foot, which contains a point reported to correspond to the heart. This was the intervention treatment.
During the other session, standardized Ingham reflexology techniques were applied to the lower part of the foot, which does not contain any points reported to correspond to the heart. This was the control treatment.
The aim of the study was to test the claim that reflexology applied to specific areas of the feet increases blood supply to the corresponding mapped organs, a mechanism the researchers called “the reflexology haemodynamic treatment-related effect.”
“This study aimed to measure the acute (immediate) cardiovascular effects of reflexology treatment applied to specific areas of the feet which are thought to correspond to the heart, and compare this with treatment applied to other areas which are not,” state the study’s authors, “to see if there is any evidence to suggest the existence of a specific haemodynamic change in the heart organ itself which occurs only when the corresponding heart area on the foot is treated.”
The outcome measures for the study included heart rate, diastolic blood pressure, systolic blood pressure, mean arterial blood pressure, stroke index, stroke volume, cardiac output, cardiac index and total peripheral resistance, among others. All data was continuously monitored during each of the two reflexology sessions, using a computer-assisted device.
No significant differences were found for any of the outcome measures except for cardiac index. The research revealed a significant decrease in cardiac index when the subjects were receiving the intervention treatment—reflexology applied to an area of the foot reported to correspond to the heart. No such decrease in cardiac index was observed when the subject received the control treatment.
“Reflexology has not been previously rigorously tested for any specific haemodynamic effect during treatment despite the reflexology claim that massage to specific points of the feet increases blood supply to referred or ‘mapped’ organs in the body,” state the study’s authors. “The study findings suggest that reflexology to the upper half of the left foot may have a modest effect on the cardiovascular parameters of healthy volunteers.”
Authors: Jenny Jones, Patricia Thomson, William Lauder, Kate Howie and Stephen J. Leslie.
Sources: School of Nursing, Midwifery & Health and Department of Computing Science & Mathematics, University of Stirling, Inverness, United Kingdom; and Highland Heartbeat Centre, Cardiology Unit, Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, United Kingdom. Originally published in November 2012 in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 18(4), 204-11.