Systematic Reviews


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Is reflexology an effective intervention? A systematic review of randomised controlled trials.

Ernst E.

Med J Aust. 2009 Sep 7;191(5):263-6.


To evaluate the evidence for and against the effectiveness of reflexology for treating any medical condition.


Six electronic databases were searched from their inception to February 2009 to identify all relevant randomised controlled trials (RCTs). No language restrictions were applied.


RCTs of reflexology delivered by trained reflexologists to patients with specific medical conditions. Condition studied, study design and controls, primary outcome measures, follow-up, and main results were extracted.


18 RCTs met all the inclusion criteria. The studies examined a range of conditions: anovulation, asthma, back pain, dementia, diabetes, cancer, foot oedema in pregnancy, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, menopause, multiple sclerosis, the postoperative state and premenstrual syndrome. There were > 1 studies for asthma, the postoperative state, cancer palliation and multiple sclerosis. Five RCTs yielded positive results. Methodological quality was evaluated using the Jadad scale. The methodological quality was often poor, and sample sizes were generally low. Most higher-quality trials did not generate positive findings.


The best evidence available to date does not demonstrate convincingly that reflexology is an effective treatment for any medical condition.


Other Systematic Reviews on Massage

 Main topic include: pediatric massage, tendinitis, depression, reflexology, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), constipation, low back pain, neck pain, dementia, cancer, massage safety

What is Systematic Review?

Beider, S. and C. A. Moyer (2007). “Randomized controlled trials of pediatric massage: a review.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 4(1): 23-34.

Brosseau, L., L. Casimiro, et al. (2002). “Deep transverse friction massage for treating tendinitis.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev(4): CD003528.

Coelho, H. F., K. Boddy, et al. (2008). “Massage therapy for the treatment of depression: a systematic review.” Int J Clin Pract 62(2): 325-333.

Ernst, E. (1998). “Does post-exercise massage treatment reduce delayed onset muscle soreness? A systematic review.” Br J Sports Med 32(3): 212-214.

Ernst, E. (1999). “Abdominal massage therapy for chronic constipation: A systematic review of controlled clinical trials.” Forsch Komplementarmed 6(3): 149-151.

Ernst, E. (1999). “Massage therapy for low back pain: a systematic review.” J Pain Symptom Manage 17(1): 65-69.

Ernst, E. (2003). “The safety of massage therapy.” Rheumatology (Oxford) 42(9): 1101-1106.

Ernst, E. (2004). “Manual therapies for pain control: chiropractic and massage.” Clin J Pain 20(1): 8-12.

Ezzo, J., B. G. Haraldsson, et al. (2007). “Massage for mechanical neck disorders: a systematic review.” Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 32(3): 353-362.

Furlan, A. D., M. Imamura, et al. (2009). “Massage for low back pain: an updated systematic review within the framework of the Cochrane Back Review Group.” Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 34(16): 1669-1684.

Haraldsson, B. G., A. R. Gross, et al. (2006). “Massage for mechanical neck disorders.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev 3: CD004871.

Hillier, S. L., Q. Louw, et al. (2010). “Massage therapy for people with HIV/AIDS.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev(1): CD007502.

Hou, W. H., P. T. Chiang, et al. (2010). “Treatment effects of massage therapy in depressed people: a meta-analysis.” J Clin Psychiatry.

Moyer, C. A., J. Rounds, et al. (2004). “A meta-analysis of massage therapy research.” Psychol Bull 130(1): 3-18.

Underdown, A., J. Barlow, et al. (2006). “Massage intervention for promoting mental and physical health in infants aged under six months.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev(4): CD005038.

Vickers, A., A. Ohlsson, et al. (2004). “Massage for promoting growth and development of preterm and/or low birth-weight infants.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev(2): CD000390.

Viggo Hansen, N., T. Jorgensen, et al. (2006). “Massage and touch for dementia.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev(4): CD004989.

Wang, M. Y., P. S. Tsai, et al. (2008). “The efficacy of reflexology: systematic review.” J Adv Nurs 62(5): 512-520.

Wilkinson, S., K. Barnes, et al. (2008). “Massage for symptom relief in patients with cancer: systematic review.” J Adv Nurs 63(5): 430-439.



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