Alternative treatments are growing in popularity among people with cancer, such as malignant mesothelioma, and the ancient therapies that have been in practice for centuries are coming to light and being lauded by those giving them a try. Reflexology is one of those ancient therapies.
There is proof that reflexology has been in practice since at least 2300 BC. Evidence comes from a 6th Dynasty wall painting that was found in the tomb of Ankhmahor (highest official after the Pharaoh) at Saqqara, depicting the practice. This Egyptian painting shows four individuals practicing hand and foot manipulation and was a major discovery for those who already believed that reflexology had origins in the ancient world. As a matter of fact, connections between reflexology and many ancient cultures have indeed been established.
Evidence of the practice in the modern world came in the 16th century with the publication of books on the topic by a handful of European physicians. But it was Dr. William H. Fitzgerald that brought reflexology to the contemporary Western world in the early 1900s. Fitzgerald, a graduate of the University of Vermont, had discovered that pressure applied to certain points on the body could relieve pain and improve the functions of certain organs of the body. He developed a new system of ten zones running from the top of the head to the tips of the toes and fingers that would respond to this pressure therapy. He called the treatment "Zone Therapy."
A few decades after Fitzgerald's discoveries, physical therapist Eunice Ingham was credited with the discovery that pressure points on the human foot were situated in a mirror image of the corresponding organs of the body with which the respective pressure points were associated. Ingham devised a chart of 12 pressure points in each hand and foot that could be manipulated to provide pain relief to her patients. It is Ingham's system that is considered the foundation for modern-day reflexology, therefore, most modern reflexologists work from Ingham's maps of pre-defined pressure points. An expert in reflexology knows exactly which pressure point corresponds with which part of the body and can design treatment accordingly.
Foot reflexology is the most commonly practiced as it is believed that the foot contains some 7,000 nerve endings. A foot reflexology treatment generally takes about 45 minutes and involves no machinery or any other medical devices, just the practitioner's hands. Usually, the therapist simply applies pressure at the prescribed reflex points with the thumb and forefinger, working from the front of the foot to the heel. By the end of the treatment, reflexologists note that a state of relaxation has been heightened, blood flow has increased, and pain has lessened.
Pain is a big issue for cancer sufferers, including those with mesothelioma, which is a very debilitating form of the disease. Therefore, cancer victims are constantly seeking new ways to reduce pain, aside from consuming large amounts of pain medication, which can cause extreme sedation and otherwise compromise one's quality of life.
Because reflexology is a natural and safe procedure, many mesothelioma patients have turned to its use as a complementary therapy; that is, a therapy that's used in addition to conventional therapies like chemotherapy or mesothelioma radiation, not as a replacement for these treatments. As a matter of fact, studies show that about 60 to 80 percent of all cancer patients choose to use some sort of complementary therapy as part of their mesothelioma treatment, often to ease the symptoms associated with traditional treatments, which can cause pain, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and much more.
Reflexology has long been recognized as one of the most successful forms of complementary therapy. By 1998, the American Cancer Society announced in its monthly journal that about one-third of all cancer patients surveyed were utilizing this ancient therapy, which both patients and practitioners claim promotes relaxation, improves circulation, reduces pain, soothes tired feet, and encourages overall healing.
Research backs up these claims. A study conducted by the East Carolina University School of Nursing noted a significant decrease in anxiety and pain among those stricken with lung and breast cancer who choose reflexology as a complementary treatment. Furthermore, researchers at Michigan State discovered that among women with advanced breast cancer, reflexology has proven to be the most successful complementary therapy when compared with others like guided imagery and reminiscence therapy. Gwen Wyatt, director of the Michigan State study, notes that she and her colleagues will continue with the study of reflexology and cancer patients thanks to a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
In the meantime, reflexology has also proven successful for the relief of post-operative pain for the many mesothelioma cancer patients who undergo surgery for their disease and in palliative care for those in end stages of cancer. The American College of Physicians encourages care givers to learn and use reflexology in their publication entitled "A Home Care Guide for Advanced Cancer" and a study that appeared in England's Nursing Standard journal indicated that advanced cancer patients "relaxed, were comforted, and achieved relief from some of their symptoms" when reflexology was administered to them.
Michigan State University