Tag Archives: reflexology

Reflexology research …. ‘low hanging fruit’

When you are busy and have so much important stuff to write about, it is so much easier to go after the ‘low hanging fruit’. Much less effort is needed and when it so easy, you don’t need to think too hard about it. Research on reflexology never fails to deliver on that count.

Reflexology is total bunk; it is made up pseudoscientific bullshit that has no basis what-so-ever. There is absolutely no known physiological mechanism linking areas on the foot to different organ systems and not one clinical trial that stacks up to scrutiny shows that it works. Every single clinical trial on it either shows it does not work or if it shows it works, it has fatal flaws in the methodology (and as such should never have been published, let alone carried out) or more often than not, was not even a clinical trial on reflexology, but a clinical trial on a damn good foot massage. Almost everyone is going to feel better after a damn good foot massage, so measures of anxiety etc are going to improve, especially if a chronic illness is present. Being more relaxed after a damn good foot massage is going to affect a number of psychosocial factors as well as some physiological parameters. BUT, that is not evidence for the junk that is reflexology, that is evidence for a damn good foot massage.

I previously blogged about how randomized trials on reflexology almost always end up with the exact same number in each group, which is really hard to do if you randomize properly. That is just symptomatic of the methodology issues that affect clinical trials that are allegedly done on reflexology.

What brought this on today was this study on “reflexology” and EEG testing of cortical oscillatory waves in the brain. The research measured a whole lot of parameters in the brain before and after a massage stimulation of the point on the foot (plantar hallux) that reflexologists claim is linked to the brain. They found changes.

BUT, there was no ‘control’ or ‘placebo’ massage stimulation of any other areas of the foot, nor a separate control group. So we have no way of knowing if the massage stimulation was just that or if it was due to stimulation of the specific area that they claimed is linked to the brain.

And even if they did that, they did not find what they claim they found. The analysis consisted of multiple comparisons which means they need to do a Bonferroni adjustment to an acceptable p-value. This means none of their results were actually statistically significant like they claimed, so they found nothing and certainly did not found what they claimed they found.

Another reflexology paper to consign to the trash heap.

Even more embarrassingly for the authors and the journal is this picture and what they labeled the dorsum of the foot:

oh dear. See why research like this is such a ‘low hanging fruit’: so easy to go after, so easy to debunk and so easy to write. Next.

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Craig Payne

University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger, dad. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+

‘More junk getting through to the keeper*’

The whole idea of the peer review process prior to publication is to weed out the junk, so it does not get published. One thing that the alternative therapies have in common is that their journals let a lot of junk science through. Too many studies get published in those journals that should never see the light of day, let alone been conducted so badly in the first place. There are ethical issues at stake in this and the editors of those journals would do well to apprise themselves of publication ethics. Institutional ethics committees or review boards also have a responsibility to prevent bad science from even getting off the ground.

What spurred that little rant was this publication today on ‘The effect of reflexology on the quality of life with breast cancer patients‘ published in the journal, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. They do not get much worse than this one.

It was a study that supposedly randomized 60 people with breast cancer into two groups; one group the control and one group getting reflexology; the aim being to see how it affected their quality of life and symptoms. Sounds good on the surface, but:

They ended up with exactly 30 in each group and reading what they did, they did not randomise – even though they said they did! They just allocated them to different groups depending on the day of the week. The assumption of the statistical tests used are that proper randomization is used. Epic Fail. How can the reviewers and editor not see that randomisation did not take place? Regardless of the results of the study, stop there as without proper randomisation the results are meaningless and can not be trusted. As the study was approved by the “Ethical Committee of the Health Science Institute¬†of Ataturk University”, then that ethics committee needs to look at its decision-making process, as all the work that went into this study and the voluntary participation of the participants was wasted.

I have already blogged about reflexology studies almost always ending up with the exact same number in each group when they are supposed to be randomised and this study just confirms that problem.

And while we could stop there as the data can not be trusted, they then went on and did 38 within groups t-tests! Seriously? DId the authors, peer reviewers and editor of the journal not see an alarm bell go of with that?

  • it was a within groups analysis rather than a between groups analysis
  • do that many t-tests, just by chance you will get a statistically significant result
  • no hints of a Bonferroni correction because of the multiple tests.

The author’s conclusion of¬†Reflexology was found to reduce the symptoms experienced by breast cancer patients, while at the same time increasing the functional and general health status simply can not be supported by the data from this study … yet it still made it through to the keeper.

Having said that, a damn good foot massage will probably make anyone with a chronic illness feel better; it is that, that is NOT reflexology and that is NOT supported by the results of this study.

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*for those not familiar with the metaphor: “through to the keeper”; it comes from cricket when the batsman does not even attempt to play at the ball and lets it pass through to the wicket keeper unchallenged.


Craig Payne

University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger, dad. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+