Reflexology is a complementary therapy that involves stimulating reflex points on the soles of the feet to induce therapeutic effects in different parts of the body. According to reflexologists, massaging these reflex areas stimulates corresponding organs and encourages natural healing.
The results of a survey investigating the use of complementary and alternative therapies by people with MS highlighted reflexology as one of the most popular therapies used by people with the condition.
Some MS Therapy Centres – local charities providing non-drug therapies for people with MS – offer reflexology for a heavily subsidised fee. Although you don't need a referral from your GP to try this treatment, it's advisable that you tell your GP or MS nurse about any complementary therapies you are receiving. You can find your closest centre by using our Map of MS services.
Reflexology has been investigated in a variety of studies to see whether it can help with MS symptoms. In one study, 71 patients were randomised to either reflexology treatment with manual pressure on specific points of the feet and massage of the calf area, or to non-specific massage of the calf area only. 53 patients completed the study and there were significant improvements in the mean scores of paraesthesia (abnormal sensations such as pins and needles), bladder symptoms, muscle strength and spasticity.
In another study, 73 people received either reflexology or basic foot massage weekly for ten weeks, primarily as a treatment for pain. Both groups showed benefit in pain, fatigue, depression and spasms with no clear difference between reflexology and massage. The effect on pain lasted for up to 12 weeks.
More recently, three separate studies compared the effects of reflexology and relaxation on fatigue, pain and psychological symptoms (anxiety, stress and depression) in women with MS. In each of these studies, reflexology was given to 25 women with MS for four weeks, twice a week for 40 minutes. Results were collected through a questionnaire completed before, immediately after and two months after treatment. In all of the studies, reflexology was found to reduce the severity of these symptoms and was recommended as an 'effective technique'.
- Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 2008;14(3):176-184. Summary Complementary therapy use by persons with multiple sclerosis: Benefits and research priorities.
- Multiple Sclerosis 2009;15(11):1329-1338. Summary Reflexology for the treatment of pain in people with multiple sclerosis: a double-blind randomised sham-controlled clinical trial.
- Multiple Sclerosis 2003;9(4)356-361. Summary Reflexology treatment relieves symptoms of multiple sclerosis: a randomised controlled study.
- Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research 2015;20(2):200-204. Full article Comparing the effects of reflexology and relaxation on fatigue in women with multiple sclerosis.
- Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine 2016;13(1):65-71. Summary A comparison of the effects of reflexology and relaxation on pain in women with multiple sclerosis.
- Journal of Education and Health Promotion 2017;6(1):11. Full article A comparison of the effects of reflexology and relaxation on the psychological symptoms in women with multiple sclerosis.
- Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine. 2016 Mar;13(1):65-71. Summary A comparison of the effects of reflexology and relaxation on pain in women with multiple sclerosis.