Reflexology Helps with Multiple Sclerosis
October 23, 2003—Reflexology improves the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new study published in Multiple Sclerosis (2003;9:356–61).
MS is a progressive inflammatory disease of the nervous system. Immune cells in people with MS attack and damage myelin, a substance that forms a protective sheath around the arm-like processes of many nerves in the brain and spinal cord. These arm-like processes, or axons, conduct signals between nerves. The progressive loss of myelin seen in people with MS results in dysfunctional nerve signal conduction that worsens over time. The symptoms of multiple sclerosis include muscle spasms, weakness, visual changes, paresthesias (numbness and tingling), difficulty with bladder control, and vertigo.
Medications used to treat MS are intended to suppress immune activity, stimulate myelin regeneration, and improve nerve signal conduction. The usefulness of these medications is limited by serious negative side effects or modest effectiveness. Nutritional approaches include eliminating potentially allergenic foods and saturated fats from the diet and supplementing with essential fatty acids.
Reflexology is a therapeutic technique from traditional Chinese medicine. It involves applying pressure to the endpoints of the meridians, or channels, through which energy flows through the body. These points are on the soles of the feet and correspond with specific areas and organs of the body. Although very few studies of reflexology exist, one preliminary study suggested a benefit in people with MS.
In the current study, 53 people with MS were randomly assigned to receive either (1) reflexology treatment, which included massage of specific points on the soles of the feet and massage of the calf, or (2) "sham treatment," which included massage of the calf only. Treatments lasting 45 minutes were given weekly for eleven weeks. Participants were evaluated to determine scores for the following symptoms: paresthesias, urinary symptoms, muscle strength, and muscle spasticity.
At the end of the study, significant improvement was observed in all four symptom scores in the group receiving reflexology treatment, but no significant improvement in any of the scores was observed in the group receiving sham treatment. The reflexology group improved significantly more than the sham group in scores of paresthesias, urinary symptoms, and muscle spasticity, but the difference in improvement in muscle strength between the two treatment groups did not reach statistical significance. The improvement in paresthesias observed in the reflexology group remained significant at a follow-up evaluation three months after the final treatment.
The results of this study demonstrate a potential benefit of reflexology in the treatment of MS. Further research is needed to confirm these findings and to develop an understanding of the ways in which reflexology produces its benefits.
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Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, Vermont, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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