In a study examining the effects of reflexology in healthy patients and patients with heart disease, researchers have found that applying pressure to the upper the heart reflex point on the left foot had an effect on the hearts of healthy patients but not on those with cardiac disease.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Stirling, found that massage to the heart reflex point had a small effect on heart function in healthy patients but not in the hearts of cardiology patients. In addition, they found that when pressure was applied to areas of the feet not related to the heart there was not change in heart function.
According to reflexologists, each part of the hands and feet are connected with specific organs in the body. Applying pressure with specific thumb, finger, and hand techniques to specific organ reflex points is believed to increased blood flow to the organ.
In this study, the team focused on the upper left ball of the sole which is said to 'map' to the heart and compared this area to other areas of both feet.
Jenny Jones, Ph.D., from the School of Nursing, Midwifery & Health, explained:
"Reflexology is unique because it makes quite specific claims that it increases blood flow and this is something you can scientifically test. In our experiment with healthy people there was an inexplicable change in the heart function which occurred only when the heart reflex point area was massaged. We have no idea what caused this change se we have applied for funding to investigate this further."
"Cardiology patients have problems with coronary blood flow so we wanted to find out if there was any impact on their heart function whilst receiving reflexology too. Interestingly, there was no effect on the hearts of cardiology patients; however all the patients found the treatment to be really relaxing, so it seems to be a safe and useful relaxation tool for cardiac patients to use.
We want to investigate further why the hearts of cardiology patients are not affected in the same way as the healthy volunteers, with medication being a possible cause. We also want to research and better understand why this one area of the foot - the upper left ball of the sole - had an effect on the heart."
Professor Steve Leslie, a cardiologist from the Cardiac Unit at Raigmore Hospital, said:
"Most patients responded well to conventional medicine but for some patients symptoms of cardiac disease persist despite best medical treatments. For these patients we wished to test if reflexology was safe. The results of this study, demonstrated that reflexology did not affect cardiac function, heart rate or blood pressure and therefore it would appear safe for patients, even those with significant cardiac disease to undergo reflexology. Whether reflexology can improve cardiac symptoms requires further research."
According to Jones, the complementary therapies market in the UK is huge and shows that there is a great deal of public interest in the topic.
Jones explained: "There are limitations of what we can do with clinical medicine but there has not been much scientific research available on complementary therapies such as reflexology to help people decide if they work or not.
However, if people are choosing to pay to have these complementary therapy treatments to treat symptoms when we have a health care service which is free, you need to ask what it is that these therapies offer that is missing in conventional healthcare."
The researchers plan to conduct further studies in order to determine whether the effect observed in this study is repeated in patients with various gradations of heart disease and other patients groups.