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  • Andrea Porritt

Reflexology and Pain


Back pain, migraines, post operative pain, pain during pregnancy, arthritis, and conditions such as fibromyalgia can take over your life, and make you think you will never feel “normal” again. These are exactly the types of pain that as a reflexologist, I see all the time in my treatment room.


Many of these conditions are chronic pain conditions. Chronic pain is defined as a pain that lasts for over three months, and it can have real effects on your day-to-day life, as well your mental health. It may have started because of an illness or injury, from which your body may even have already recovered, yet the pain and inflammation lingers. Or there may be an ongoing cause for the pain; arthritis or cancer being the two things that spring to mind from experience. There are also people that suffer chronic pain without ever being diagnosed with any illness, or any past injury. Whatever the cause, it can change your life, and change you as a person.


But as the brain receives messages from the body, and evaluates them, it is influenced by several different factors:

· The different sensory inputs from the body

· The memories you may have of previous such pain events

· Your personality and cultural background

· How the brain perceives that you will be able to cope with this pain

· Your present levels of stress

· Your personal reserves of strength and energy

· How much sleep you’re getting

But there are several major areas where reflexology, I think, can help.


Pain and sleep

Sleep affects pain. Most people have realized during periods of pain that when they sleep poorly, their pain levels are adversely affected. So in order to cope better with pain, we need to have regular, restorative sleep. This is definitely an area where reflexology can help, as so many people find that regular reflexology can help them to restore natural sleep patterns. In a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials it was found that reflexology improved the sleep quality of adults with sleep disturbances. One such study from 2011 says although more research needs to be done, foot reflexology “is a useful nursing intervention to relieve fatigue and to promote sleep.”


Pain and inflammation

The body’s inflammatory process ramps up when the immune system detects damage or potential damage caused by illness. Sometimes this “inflammatory response” doesn’t get shut off, causing chronic pain. Reflexology may be able to help the body to calm the inflammation response.


Pain and stress

When the body has been stuck in Fight or flight for too long physiological changes occur in the body because of raised stress hormones. This can lead to changes in blood supplies to muscles and joints, which ultimately can give rise to less flexibility and pain in these tissues. Down the line this can end up with treatment interventions to help with joint and muscle pain, which could have been prevented by more proactive stress management, and that’s where reflexology comes in! Reflexology is an excellent way to help people deal with the general stress of their lives, which can, in the end, manifest as a physical problem in the body.


Pain and the breath.

One of the most common symptoms of both pain and anxiety is experiencing a shortness of breath, or hyperventilation – too many breaths, whereas slower, deeper breathing can help reduce pain and anxiety. This is because of an area of the brainstem called the parabrachial nucleus (LPN) which not only regulates breathing, but also mediates pain, fear, and anxiety. Now if we can slow breathing, we can help pain, and become more centered. This can, of course, be done with medication or breathing practices, but what if you added reflexology to the mix? Reflexology induces a relaxation response, which slows breathing, which in turn slows breathing, which helps decrease pain! (I hasten to add that this is mainly theory on my part but seems to work in practice!)


As I am sure you can see, reflexology is almost certainly worth trying for many people suffering from chronic or even acute pain. Personally, I use several techniques that I have learnt from various teachers both in the UK and abroad to try and help my clients coping with pain. Perhaps you could benefit from reflexology?


While you're wondering about getting in touch - here are a few clinical studies that show that reflexology does indeed help people with pain conditions.


https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5114793/ The effect of reflexology on pain perception aspects in nurses with chronic low back pain in Isfahan

https://researchportal.port.ac.uk/en/studentTheses/an-investigation-into-the-efficacy-of-reflexology-on-acute-pain-i An investigation into the efficacy of reflexology on acute pain in healthy human subjects

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34533507/ Foot Reflexology: An Intervention for Pain and Nausea Among Inpatients With Cancer

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33715931/ The effect of foot reflexology on procedural pain before heel lancing in neonates

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33789252/ Effects of Reflexology on Pain, Fatigue, and Quality of Life in Multiple Sclerosis Patients: A Clinical Study

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33855996/ Effect of Foot Reflexology and Aromatherapy on Anxiety and Pain During Brachytherapy for Cervical Cancer

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33749069/ Effect of plantar reflexology on labor pain and childbirth experience: A randomized controlled clinical trial

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