Family and friends are very often the primary caregivers for patients with cancer, despite not being paid or having any formal training, and can commonly experience sadness, anxiety, fatigue and sleep disorders (Toygar et al, 2020).
A recent randomized controlled trial carried out in an oncology unit of a university hospital evaluated the short-term effect of foot reflexology on sleep and anxiety in 66 informal caregivers. The subjects were randomly allocated to either an intervention (reflexology) group or control (placebo) group.
The caregivers in both groups had their feet bathed and wrapped in towels before their 30-minute treatment sessions, which were carried out on three consequent days after the patient was hospitalised. The reflexology group had a warm-up and cool-down applied before and after treatment (including cycling, treadmill, stretching exercises), with the treatment itself focusing on the deep stimulation of the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, brain, pineal and solar plexus reflex points on both feet, with the aim of reducing anxiety and promoting sleep. Those in the placebo group had the surfaces of both feet rubbed without any deep stimulation. Sleep and anxiety measures were taken at baseline and one day after the last session in the hospital.
The results of the study showed that foot reflexology had a large effect on anxiety and medium effect on sleep. The authors concluded that ‘foot reflexology was found as an effective intervention to reduce anxiety and improve the quality of sleep of informal cancer caregivers. The effect of placebo on reducing the anxiety of informal caregivers was found, but it wasn’t as effective as reflexology.
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Toygar İ, Yeşilbalkan ÖU, Malseven YG, Sönmez E. Effect of reflexology on anxiety and sleep of informal cancer caregiver: Randomized controlled trial. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2020 May;39:101143. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2020.101143. Epub 2020 Mar 10. PMID: 32379631.