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Monday, 31 December, 2001, 04:06 GMT
Reflexology 'no help' for bowel disorder
Reflexology is a popular alternative therapy
Reflexology is a popular alternative therapy
Reflexology does not help patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a study has found.

The complementary therapy, in which points in the feet are massaged in a particular way to ease discomfort in other parts of the body, was assessed in a study published in the British Journal of General Practice.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is described as abdominal discomfort linked with an alteration in bowel habits.

Conventional medicine can often find no cause, leading to many patients seeking cures from alternative therapies.

Reflexology in particular remains not just under-researched but almost un-researched - something that is quite startling given the extent of its use

Dr Philip Tovey, University of Leeds
Researchers from the School for Healthcare Studies at the University of Leeds admit IBS causes family doctors concern because it is poorly understood and largely unable to be effectively treated using conventional medicine


Thirty-four patients with IBS were recruited from four GP practices.

The study was approved and carried out in consultation with reflexologists.

Half the patients received six 30 minute reflexology treatment sessions.

The others saw healthcare staff for the same amount of time, but received no reflexology treatment.

Patients were asked to record symptoms two weeks before their first session, two weeks after and for a fortnight three months after their treatment had ended.

Severity of abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhoea and bloating were measured, but the Leeds team, led by Dr Philip Tovey, said none showed reflexology made no positive difference.

'Contrary' findings

Dr Tovey said: "While due caution should be exercised in generalising from a single study, the nature of the data is such that clear conclusions can be drawn.

"However, more research is needed, not only to test these initial findings but also to extend the range of participants to, for instance, those newly diagnosed with IBS.

"Reflexology in particular remains not just under-researched but almost un-researched - something that is quite startling given the extent of its use."

Nicola Hall, chairman of the British Reflexology Association (BRA), said: "The results of this study are contrary to what we would expect." 

She said a BRA audit in 1998 showed some success in using reflexology to treat IBS.

The association also plans to a further survey into reflexology and IBS next year.

Ms Hall added: "Reflexology has been shown to be very helpful to stress-related conditions and with IBS fitting this category we expect to find that reflexology treatment can be helpful in the treatment of IBS."

See also:

28 Nov 00 | Health
Crackdown on alternative therapy
09 Sep 01 | Health
Serious gut problems 'ignored'
10 Jul 01 | Health
Chilli link to bowel disorders
08 Jun 98 | Medical notes
Complementary medicine
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