Context: Headache is the most frequently reported symptom among Danish adults, and studies in various European countries indicate migraine headache prevalence rates similar to those in Denmark.
Objective: An exploratory study of reflexological treatment for headache was conducted from 1993 to 1994 to examine which patients with headache underwent a course of reflexological treatment, why patients sought reflexological treatment, what previous experience patients had with medication for headache, and what outcomes patients experienced from reflexological treatment.
Design: Prospective and exploratory study using random sampling and the following data collection methods: headache diaries, registration schemes for practitioners, questionnaires, and qualitative interviews.
Patients: 220 patients with migraine and/or tension headache.
Intervention: Patients were treated for a maximum of 6 months by 78 reflexologists systematically drawn from the membership lists of 5 alternative therapist associations.
Main outcome measures: A diagnosis of each patient's type of headache at the outset of treatment was made by a consulting physician according to the International Headache Society Classification (1988).
Results: At 3-month follow-up, 81% of patients reported that they were helped by the treatments or were cured of their headache problems. Nineteen percent of those who had formerly taken drugs to control their headaches were able to stop medication support following participation in the study.
Conclusions: Reflexological treatment seems to improve patients' general well-being, energy level, ability to interpret their own body signals, and ability to understand the reasons for headache. However, these relationships may be due to other factors in the treatment environment. Additional studies are necessary to determine the proximate cause of reflexology's therapeutic benefits.