Reflexology for Cancer

What is Reflexology?

Reflexology is a complementary therapy that applies hand pressure to specific areas of the feet to balance vital energy throughout the body and with the goal of relieving a variety of problems. There is early scientific evidence (1) that reflexology can reduce some types of pain and anxiety in patients as well as being good for relaxation.

Although reflexology can be performed also on the hands, practicing on the feet is the more common application of reflexology. The therapy is based upon the theory that reflex points located in the feet and hands are linked to the organs and body parts. Therefore stimulation of these points is believed to affect the connected organs or body parts.

Energy travels from the foot to the spine where it is released into the rest of the body. It is also said to release endorphins, which are the body’s own natural pain killers, as well as detoxifying by dissolving uric acid crystals in the feet. A reflexologist can feel these crystals upon touching and applying some pressure to the feet.

Reflexology and Childhood Cancer

Reflexology may help relieve symptoms related to cancer treatment such as nausea, stress and insomnia. The therapy is believed to have a generally beneficial effect on the patient’s well-being.

Reflexology is non-invasive and gentle and is one of the most appropriate techniques to use for children with cancer. It can be performed in a chair, bed, massage table, couch or crib. (2)

Lots of children and teenagers really enjoy it as it helps them forget about everything for a while and just relax.

One child patient said about his reflexologist: "It makes a big difference to me when she comes. When I was in the hospital getting chemo, the reflexology made me forget all the nasty stuff that was being put into my body. I just concentrate on the good feeling." he says. - Read the full article on Tommy Fund for Childhood Cancer newsletter

As part of a comprehensive medical care program (3) it is important to take into account not only the biologic dimensions of an illness but also the psychological and social factors which can affect the whole person. Reflexology as well as other complementary therapies fits well into a more comprehensive approach.


When it comes to research we are still in the relatively early days and it is difficult to find much child specific research. However reflexology is being used more and more in UK hospitals as part of massage services for cancer patients including children. Some practitioners put on nice music and dim the lights in the room to enhance the relaxing atmosphere.
1. 87 patients took part in a study where each received just 10 minutes of reflexology, 5 minutes per foot, and the results showed that the treatments produced immediate and significant effects on the patients’ perception of pain, nausea and relaxation when measured on a visual analogue scale.
2. Another study which took 12 British hospitalized cancer patients with different types of tumours and assigned 6 to a placebo group and 6 to a reflexology group. Patients completed a visual analogue scan (VAS) 24 hours before commencing the treatments and again within 24 hours of completion.

Both groups received 40 minutes of treatment every other day over a 5 day period. The VAS measured quality of life components such as: appetite, appearance, nausea, pain, sleep and tiredness, fear of future, diarrhoea, constipation, concentration, communication with doctors and family, isolation, mobility, mood, micturition and malnutrition.

The results concluded that all participants received some comfort from the treatments whereas in the placebo group only 33% of them felt some benefit.

This study is: “Hodgson, H., “Does reflexology impact on cancer patients’ quality of life?” Nursing Standard, (England) 14, 31, 33-38.

Click here to see more information about reflexology and cancer and click here to see information about reflexology and chemotherapy.

The Reflexology and Cancer Symposium

In October 2008 the first Reflexology and Cancer Symposium was held in Israel. There were 130 delegates from around the world and 17 speakers during a four day period.

One of the speakers, Dr. Faure-Alderson (4) told the delegates that the body cleanses itself from inside to outside, top to bottom and present to past. She is emphatic in her belief that in order to treat the cause of cancer, like any other disease, we must reach the initial stressor. She says that reflexology works on the somato-emotional approach to disease and therefore has its place in treatment before, during and after cancer. Her Research Study goals are to prove the relief of symptoms in cancer patients and find positive results in reduction of anxiety, depression and pain, nausea, fear, needle phobia, tumour markers and enhance calmness.

What Happens in a Reflexology Session?

The reflexologist will ask some initial health questions before the first session with a patient. The practitioner will then gently examine the child’s feet and apply some pressure onto selected reflex points. Some children can feel tingling sensations in other parts of the body during the session and some parts of the feet may feel tenderer than others.

The session can take from 30 minutes to an hour. Many children find it extremely relaxing.

A Brief History of Reflexology

Reflexology traces back to China, India and Egypt. There is a pictograph in the tomb of an Egyptian Physician Ankhmahor at Saqquara near Cairo, dating back to 2500-3000 B.C. where there are two men working on the hands and feet of two other men.

In China the evidence of some form of foot and hand therapy goes back as far as 4000 B.C. In the West it was an American Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon, Dr. William Fitzgerald (1872-1942) who was the founder of Zone Therapy which is the predecessor of reflexology.

He found through research that by exerting pressure on the tips of the fingers or toes a corresponding body part would be anaesthetised. He then divided the body up into 10 equal zones running from the head to the tips of the toes. He was the author of publications such as "To stop that toothache – squeeze your toe."

Eunice Ingham (1889-1974) was known as the Mother of Reflexology. She travelled throughout America practising and teaching and practiced until she was 80 years of age. She was a Physiotherapist. She was the author of two well know books: "Stories the Feet Can Tell" and "Stories the Feet Have Told."

Her work is carried on today by the International Institute of Reflexology.