Seeing is believing! Or is it?

Ignaz Semmelweis was a genius. Born in 1818 he was the first person to link dirty hands to deaths on hospital wards. Anyone today would think this the most glaringly obvious discovery but at the time, he was ridiculed and even lost his job in Austria because of it. 

He worked on a maternity ward in a Viennese hospital. In the 1800s most women delivered their babies at home and were only taken to hospital because of poverty, illegitimacy or complications. Shockingly, 25-30% of mothers died from childbirth while in hospital.  Doctors were convinced the infection was due to over crowding, poor ventilation or even the onset of lactation. Semmelweis took it upon himself to investigate further and find the cause. The chief of the hospital strongly objected to his research saying the deaths were unpreventable.

Semmelweis realised that his students were transferring infections between patients. He couldn’t show them the physical evidence, as they didn’t have the equipment at the time to see the bacteria. However, he instructed his students to wash their hands in a solution of chlorinated lime in-between patients. He had joined the hospital in 1844 and by 1848 no woman had died during childbirth in that year. A year later he was dropped from his post as his peers were still unconvinced by his discovery. He joined another maternity ward in a Hungarian hospital and their mortality rate dropped to 0.85% while in Vienna the rate had risen again to 10-15%. His ideas were accepted and revered in Hungary while in Austria, his peers remained mostly hostile. Sadly the years of controversy eventually undermined his spirit and he was taken to a mental hospital where he shortly died in 1865. 

It makes me think. What else is there still to be discovered? What else is happening around us that we just can’t see or don’t have the technology at the moment to find? So many illnesses like fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety and chronic fatigue syndrome have no physical evidence – they won’t show up on a scan or in a blood test. They don’t appear as a rash or broken limb yet this doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Maybe we won’t believe this was true in 10-20 years time when these crucial discoveries have been made.

It’s the same with reflexology. Time after time the scientific community slam reflexology because of the lack of scientific evidence to support it.

In 2000 The House of Lords Select Committee published a report on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) to give an in depth analysis of what was going on within this field. The Committee was very keen that there should be professional standards, registration and accountability in all aspects of CAM.

They described reflexology as:

"A system of massage of the feet based on the idea that there are invisible zones running vertically through the body, so that each organ has a corresponding location in the foot. It has also been claimed to stimulate blood supply and relieve tension."

Within this report, all CAM therapies were divided into one of three groups and reflexology sits within Group Two: A complimentary therapy which lacks a firm scientific basis and is not regulated to protect the public, but gives help and comfort to many people.


The lack of firm scientific basis is because, although there appears to be a lot of reflexology research within the profession, many of the published studies are flawed either by poor methodology, lack of sufficient randomisation or use too small trial numbers. Most reflexologists have no formal training on how to record or complete a full study to the required standards. More of the studies need to be repeated or replicated for the results to be validated and new studies need to be carried out with an emphasis on the methodology put in place. As reflexologists we need to understand what makes good and bad research so more of our hard work is taken into account as sufficient and valid evidence.

Many naysayers will say that science will never support reflexology. As the trials have generally been of poor quality, systematic reviews will fail to demonstrate any health benefits. But I still believe! Looking for research I found The Association of Reflexology’s library of material and I chose one piece at random: “Reviewing the effect of reflexology on the pain and certain features and outcomes of the labour on the primiparous women.” (primiparous – a women who has borne only one child).

The study took place in 2010 involving 88 women in an Iranian hospital aged between 18 and 36 years old. They were randomly split into two groups. Group 1 had reflexology for 60 minutes as they entered the active stage of labour. Group 2 did not receive any reflexology.

The results showed reflexology reduced the length of labour, labour pain intensity and postpartum haemorrhaging. The researchers concluded reflexology should be used in hospitals to help prevent the use of pharmacological methods and palliative medicines that could lead to side effects. Good news! And this was just one research piece I chose from a database of 100’s. Sadly these positive results just aren’t being accepted by a wider community.


I’m also really sad that my profession is so unregulated and anyone can go on a basic reflexology course and start work. I’ve just found a course advertised for £9.99 that proudly proclaims you’ll be accredited and able to run your own business after watching their online videos and reading their manual. If you had reflexology with someone who has just looked on line for a couple of hours, of course it will be a bad experience and you’ll say reflexology is just a massage, if that. I would too! If you are looking for a reflexologist please find an accredited Association of Reflexology practitioner who you know has been taught thoroughly and professionally.

I’m not going to change everyone’s opinions over night. The sceptics will still be demanding more scientific evidence. Maybe just maybe, the total accountability for reflexology just hasn’t been invented yet and all the benefits you get from it just can’t be seen at the moment. I hope one day we’ll have the ability to prove reflexology can really help AND make a difference. Until then, those who love having it and feel the benefits please keep on coming. And the sceptics, who are missing out what they presume is just a foot massage, why don’t you give it a try as well?*

*Please go to an Association of Reflexology reflexologist not the crazy foot lady down the road who had a look online while watching Love Island…

Kathryn Allen, Member of the Association of Reflexologists | | 07867535674 |