Using Reflexology in Multiple Sclerosis

See how reflexology may reduce your MS pain and urinary problems

reflexology treatment
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Reflexology is ideal if you want to try a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approach that is safe with very few side effects and enjoy a nice, long foot or hand massage. As an added bonus, it has been shown to have a positive influence on certain MS symptoms by reducing muscle spasms, pain, and bladder and bowel problems, and improving walking and quality of life. 

What Is Reflexology?

Reflexology is a therapeutic technique from traditional Chinese medicine in which pressure is applied to the feet (and sometimes hands) without using oils or creams.

How Is Reflexology Supposed to Work?

Reflexology is based on the theory that all of the body’s organs, glands, and systems have corresponding points on the feet and hands, and that stimulating these points can increase circulation of blood and energy to improve the function of the body.

What Happens During a Reflexology Treatment Session?

The basic sequence of events entails:

  • Before getting started, you will be asked to fill out a form describing different health problems and symptoms that you may have. Be sure to communicate you have MS.
  • A bowl with warm water (often with some marbles in the bottom and some fragrant oils added) is provided for you to soak your feet in for a couple of minutes.
  • The reflexologist will then dry your feet and you will either lie down on a massage table or recline in a comfortable chair with the reflexologist seated at your feet.
  • The reflexologist will work on one foot at a time, combining different techniques of stroking, “crawling” and pressure with her fingers on different parts of your foot, concentrating on areas corresponding to problems that you have reported or where she senses issues that need to be addressed.
  • The process will be repeated for the other foot. The foot that she is not working on will be kept covered.
  • The reflexologist may use some of the techniques on your hands, as well.

Usually in a reflexology treatment, you leave your clothes on, unless you receive your treatment in a spa where you may be encouraged to wear a robe.

Treatment sessions generally last between 45 and 60 minutes.

What Does Reflexology Feel Like?

For the most part, reflexology feels like a foot and/or hand massage. There may be points in the treatment where it's slightly uncomfortable, as pressure is applied to specific areas. However, it should never be painful. Overall, it's an incredibly relaxing experience. Many people either fall asleep or enter a state of total tranquility that one practitioner referred to as “the zone.”

How Effective is Reflexology for MS?

There have been a couple of small studies conducted on the use of reflexology to alleviate symptoms of MS. One study was a randomized control trial involving 53 participants with MS. It showed significant improvement in sensory symptoms, urinary symptoms, and spasticity. The study participants had 11 weekly 45-minute sessions (or sham sessions with calf massages, as the placebo). The improvement in sensory symptoms in the reflexology recipients remained significant three months after the final treatment.

Are There any Risks to Reflexology?

Pregnant women should not get reflexology treatment, as certain manipulations of the feet are said to cause contractions which could lead to premature labor. Of course, there is much debate about this, but it's likely best to err on the side of caution when pregnant. Also, people with the following health issues should approach reflexology with caution:

  • Foot problems
  • Gout
  • Arthritis
  • Vascular conditions, such as varicose veins

How Do I Find a Reflexologist?

The laws about required licensing for reflexology vary by state. In some states, reflexology falls under massage laws, in others, under cosmetology laws. Still others have no laws regulating reflexologists. 

You can try the following in your search: ask people for recommendations, call your local chapter of the National MS Society, investigate services offered at a reputable spa or wellness center or do some Internet searching. You can also visit the websites of the Reflexology Association of AmericaInternational Institute of Reflexology, or find certified reflexologists at the American Reflexology Certification Board website. 

Should I Try Reflexology?

Whether or not one ascribes to Chinese traditional medical theories, reflexology results in deep relaxation, stress reduction, and an overall improved sense of well-being for many people, and it may have the additional benefit of helping your MS.  

It could be worth a try for you. If nothing else, reflexology can help you relax and simply "feel good" which everyone deserves. 

Sources:

Namjooyan F, Ghanavati R, Majdinasab N, Jokari S, & Janbozorgi M. Uses of complementary and alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis. J Tradit Complement Med. 2014 Jul-Sep;4(3):145-52.

Siev Ner I, Gamus D, Lerner-Geva L & Achiron A. Refelxology treatment relieves symptoms of multiple sclerosis: a randomized controlled study. Mult Scler. 2003 Aug;9(4):356-61.

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