A pilot study of the effectiveness of reflexology in treating idiopathic constipation in women

Medical - Surgical Nursing Journal 2016; 5(3): 12-17. Published online 2016 December 31

Abolfazl Rahimi Zarchi, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, Hamid Reza Khankeh, Reza Salman Roghani, Akbar Biglarian

Objectives: Constipation is a common problem in the UK, affecting up to 20% of the population. Reflexologists claim that reflexology can be beneficial in the treatment of constipation. The aim of this exploratory pilot study was to determine the effectiveness of reflexology in treating idiopathic constipation in women and it is the first study of the effectiveness of reflexology for the treatment of women with idiopathic constipation defined according to Rome II criteria.

Methods:Nineteen female patients referred to a specialist biofeedback service with idiopathic constipation defined by Rome II criteria were recruited. A course of reflexology treatment (weekly for six weeks) was given. Patients’ subjective perception of constipation was recorded as well as the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HAD), the Short form 36 (SF36), whole gut transit and the Holistic Complementary and Alternative Medicine Questionnaire (HCAMQ) before and after the intervention.

Results: All participants completed the intervention and none were lost to follow-up. Ninety-four percent of participants identified their constipation to be improved to some extent. Ten participants had improved colonic transit times and two patients had normalised colonic transit. Ten patients (53%, p = 0.19) demonstrated an improved anxiety score and 11 participants (58%, p= 0.14) demonstrated an improved depression score on the HAD scales. Improvement was seen in general health, mental health and vitality on the SF36 scale, with vitality improving significantly (p< 0.05). Sixty-three percent of participants had a more positive attitude (p= 0.03) towards CAM and holistic health following treatment. Symptom improvement related not only to bowel frequency, but also to other symptoms such as bloating that patients often regard as more troublesome.

Laxative use: Prior to the commencement of the intervention, 15 out of the 19 participants were taking regular laxatives. At the end of the study 12 (80%) of these patients had ceased using laxatives and two had greatly reduced their laxative consumption. Of these, one patient had been taking daily doses of senna and had reduced to one dose approximately every three weeks and the other had reduced laxative consumption from twice weekly doses of Picolax to a once weekly dose of senna. Data for one participant were missing.

Conclusions: This study shows that in this sample reflexology has potential benefit for treating idiopathic constipation in women. Further randomised trials are required.

Keywords:  Constipation, Laxative, Reflexology, Women