Background: Reflexology has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress in various populations. The mechanism by which this occurs may be in modulating autonomic nervous system (ANS) function; however; there is limited evidence available in the area.
Primary study objective: The aim of the study was to investigate the feasibility of using an experimental model to determine the physiological effect of reflexology on stress.
Methods/design: A feasibility study to assess an experimental study design to compare the effect of reflexology and control interventions on heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP) following mental stress tests.
Setting: The Health and Rehabilitation Science Research Institute at the University ofUlster, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom.
Participants: Twenty-six healthy volunteers.
Intervention: Mental stress was induced before and after intervention. Participants in the reflexology group received 20 minutes of reflexology, and the control group received 20 minutes of relaxation with a therapist holding each participant's feet.
Primary outcome measures: The outcome measures, HR and BP, were measured throughout mental stress testing intervention, and a second period of mental stress testing following intervention.
Results: The study design was considered feasible. There were significant reductions in systolic blood pressure (SBP) (22%; P = .03) and in diastolic blood pressure (DBP) (26%; P = .01) during mental stress following reflexology compared to the stress period prior to intervention. In contrast, there was a 10% reduction in SBP (P = .03) but a 5% increase in DBP (P = .67) during the period of mental stress following the control intervention compared to results obtained during mental stress prior to this intervention. However, there were no significant differences between reflexology and control groups.
Conclusion: This study has demonstrated the feasibility of conducting an experimental study on the effect ofreflexology in stress using BP as the primary outcome measure. Results from such a study would address the lack of high-quality evidence for the physiological effects of reflexology.