Foot reflexology in the management of functional constipation: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2020 Aug;40:101198. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2020.101198. Epub 2020 May 8.


Background: Foot reflexology has been considered an important complementary therapy for many health-related symptoms, especially for some chronic conditions such as anxiety, stress, pain and fatigue. Some studies also showed that foot reflexology had a significant effect on functional constipation, whereas some studies did not. The effect of foot reflexology on functional constipation remains controversial. Therefore, an evidence-based systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials were conducted to investigate the effect of foot reflexology on functional constipation.

Methods: Randomised controlled trials were identified by searching five electronic databases and hand-searching eligible reference lists. Studies that reported the effect of foot reflexology on functional constipation were included. Two reviewers performed the study screening, quality assessment and data extraction. Any discrepancy was discussed with a third reviewer. Quantitative synthesis was conducted for the same outcome measurements by calculating weighted risk ratios.

Results: A total of 203 records were identified, of which seven were eligible. Overall, foot reflexology significantly increased the curative ratio, with a pooled risk ratio of 1.27 (95% CI: 1.16, 1.40, p < 0.00001). Three trials compared the improvement of constipation-related symptoms after intervention in both the experimental and control groups by evaluating the constipation-related symptom scores. The results all showed that foot reflexology can effectively improve constipation-related symptoms. However, one trial reported that foot reflexology had no significant effect on stool frequency and stool consistency. Two studies indicated that foot reflexology significantly reduced the recurrence rate of functional constipation. One study reported the effect of foot reflexology on compliance with the toilet training, diet and motivation. Nevertheless, no significant improvement was detected.

Conclusion: Foot reflexology is an effective complementary therapy for treating functional constipation. However, because of the small number of included studies and their small sample sizes, the current evidence was insufficient to support the effectiveness of foot reflexology in reducing the recurrence rate, improving the constipation-related symptom, and compliance with toilet training, diet and motivation. Randomised controlled trials with long-term follow-up are needed for further investigation.

Keywords: Functional constipation; Meta-analysis; Reflexology.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Constipation* / therapy
  • Diet
  • Foot
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Manipulations*