Using Reflexology in Multiple Sclerosis

Reflexology May Reduce Your MS Pain and Urinary Problems

reflexology treatment
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Reflexology may be right for you if you want to try a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approach that is safe and entails a foot or hand massage.

As an added bonus, not only is reflexology relaxing but it may ease your MS symptoms, especially if you have muscle spasms, pain, walking problems, and/or bladder and bowel problems.

Origin of Reflexology

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

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 to Expect 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 that you have MS.
  • A bowl of 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. She will concentrate on areas of your feet that correspond to problems 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 Reflexology Feels 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.

Effectiveness of Reflexology in MS

There have been a couple of small studies conducted on the use of reflexology to alleviate symptoms of MS.

For example, 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.

Potential Contraindications to Undergoing Reflexology

Pregnant women probably should not undergo reflexology, as certain manipulations of the feet may cause contractions. 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:

Finding 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. 

A Word From Verywell

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. 

Source:

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.

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