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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Porritt

Why reflexology is a great idea when you're pregnant.

Updated: Jan 22, 2022

You had this idea that you would sail trough pregnancy taking everything in your stride, but now your back's killing you, and you're wondering what on earth you can do to help yourself. Well, I don't have a magic wand, but I do have a suggestion...

Up to 71% of women experience lower back pain during pregnancy, and up to 65% develop pelvic girdle pain. Many of these women are having to resort to pain killers like paracetamol, co-codamol and diclofenac to help them cope with the pain. However, more and more midwives and mums-to-be are looking for help from complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies to address a range of pregnancy related symptoms, including lower back and/or pelvic girdle pain (LBPGP). A study carried out between 2012 and 2014, conducted at the Ulster Maternity Unit shows how helpful reflexology may be in the care of pregnant women.

This randomised controlled trial invited first time pregnant women in the third trimester of pregnancy with LBPGP to be part of the study. These ladies had an equal chance of receiving:

· 30-minute reflexology sessions for six weeks alongside their usual antenatal care

· 30-minute footbath treatments for six weeks alongside their usual antenatal care

· Their usual antennal care (control group)

These ladies were asked to rate their pain frequency and intensity once per week. Ladies receiving reflexology and footbath treatments also had their heart rate and blood pressure recorded before and after each treatment. Each participant also provided a saliva sample at the beginning and the end of the study to check for levels of the stress hormones cortisol and beta-endorphins. (Cortisol is a steroid hormone which controls blood sugar levels, salt and water balance, acts as an anti-inflammatory, influences blood pressure and helps the development of the foetus. Beta-endorphins are released to counteract pain in the body.)

The Results

Across the six-week intervention period, LBPGP frequency increased for the participants in the footbath group, while it decreased for the reflexology and control groups. The interesting thing is that the reduction in pain was greater for the reflexology group than the control group, who were just receiving the usual antenatal care.

It was also found that over the six-week period levels of Beta-endorphins increased by 8.8% for the foot bath group and 10.1% for the usual care group. But in the reflexology group, the beta-endorphin levels reduced by 15.2%. Cortisol increased by 31.8% in the footpath group, 31.4% in the usual care groups but only 18.8% in the reflexology group.

Labour data was collected for 97% of the women from the study. In particular, data on labour times was collected from 62% of the women who had a vaginal birth. The mean duration of the women in the reflexology group was 44 minutes shorter than the women in the control and footbath groups!


From these results we can conclude that reflexology helped to significantly reduce pain for patients in the trial. This is evidenced not only by the women’s own opinions, but also by the reduction in beta-endorphin levels. Furthermore, these women also spent less time in the second stage of labour.

However, while these results are very exciting, we must remember that this was a very small trial, and one study does not mean that all women will get the same results. As a reflexologist, I look forward to more studies on this in the future, and to hopefully bringing the power of reflexology to many more mummies-to-be!

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