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August 2023

Reflexology Research; Headaches and Migraines. 

Source – Reflexions; December 2022 – Written by Tracey Smith

Reflexions is the AoR members quarterly magazine letting you discover the latest reflexology insights. Written by Reflexologists, for reflexologists.
In our December 2022 Edition we offer members an insight into headaches and migraines and the use of reflexology to relieve symptoms. Here we share with you one article from this popular magazine.  Want more? Join today and access this whole edition of Reflexions as well as a library of previous editions of this highly sought after magazine.

Generally, there are few research projects for reflexologists to draw on, but for migraine, headache and taking in the bigger picture of pain, there are more studies than for many subjects, to begin to build a base of how reflexology might help.
Reflexology has already seen some success in terms of pain relief [1–4]. In the classic ice pain experiment by Samuel et al. [1] Valiani et al. [2] (n = 68) compared reflexology and ibuprofen and concluded a significant superiority of reflexology for a reduction in pain intensity and duration of pain for dysmenorrhea in female students indicating that reflexology can replace anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to avoid adverse side effects.

Regarding reflexology with headaches and migraine

  • Lafuenta et al. [3] (n = 32) compared reflexology to flunarizine, a drug often used in the treatment of headaches. The results show that reflexology is at least as effective as flunarizine which could be particularly useful where pharmacological intervention is contraindicated.
  • A study comparing reflexology to massage in females with migraine, Wojciech et al [4] (n = 48) investigated the frequency, intensity, and duration of migraine attacks. All variables were reduced at the end of both therapeutic interventions. However, at three months post-intervention, on the application of the Friedman test, the results indicated that reflexology was more likely to reduce both the frequency and intensity of headaches and migraines.
  • Imani et al. investigated migraines induced by nitro-glycerine used in the treatment of acute and chronic angina and congestive heart failure [5] (n =75). The results indicate a highly statistical difference of p < 0.5 for pain in the reflexology group compared to the control group.
  • An uncontrolled study by Launsø et al. [6] (n = 220) indicated at three months follow-up 81% stated their headaches were either helped or ‘cured’ by the reflexology with a further 19% discontinuing their prescribed medication.

Of course, in addition to these studies we also have the AoR pragmatic data collection of 20 migraine clients self-referred to reflexology [7]. Using a paper- based version of the MYMOP, AoR members followed the progress of their clients self-presenting for reflexology.

  • 75% (n = 15) of clients had an improvement of two or more points in the overall MYMOP profile.
  • 90% (n = 18) of participants achieved the minimal clinically important difference of 1.0 for the MYMOP change score.

It was no surprise to find that the symptom that improved the most was their chosen primary symptom which changed an average of 3.40 points. We concluded that these results indicate the potential for reflexology to relieve the symptoms of migraine.

[1] C.A. Samuel, I.S. Ebenezer, Exploratory study on the efficacy of reflexology for pain threshold and tolerance using an ice-pain experiment and sham TENS control, Complement, Ther. Clin. Pract. 19 (2013) 57–62.
[2] M. Valiani, E. Babaei, R. Heshmat, Z. Zare, Comparing the effects of reflexology methods and Ibuprofen administration on dysmenorrhea in female students of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Iran. J. Nurs. Midwifery Res. 15 (2010) 371–378.
[3] F. Lafuente, M. Noguera, C. Puy, A. Molins, Effekt der Reflexzonenbehandlung am Fuss besuglich der priphylattishen Behnaglung mit Flunarizen bei an Cephalea-Kopfschmerzen leidenden Patienten, Erfahrungsheilkunde 11 (1990).
[4] K. Wojciech, L. Pawel, R.Z. Halina, Effects of feet reflexology versus segmental massage in reducing pain and its intensity, frequency and duration of the attacks in females with migraine: a pilot study, J. Tradit. Chinese Med. = Chung i Tsa Chih Ying Wen Pan 37 (2017) 214–219.
[5] N. Imani, S.A. Shams, M. Radfar, H. Ghavami, H.R. Khalkhali, Effect of applying reflexology massage on nitroglycerin-induced migraine-type headache: a placebo controlled clinical trial, Agri 30 (2018) 116–122.
[6] A.S. Launsø L, E. Brendstrup, An exploratory study of reflexological treatment for headache, Alternative Ther. Health Med. 5 (1999) 57–65.
[7] Smith TA, Thurgood SL. A pragmatic case series of clients living with medically diagnosed migraines self-referred to reflexology. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2020 Nov;41:101230