During pregnancy up to 71% of women experience low back pain (LBP) and up to 65% may develop pelvic girdle pain (GP), according to recent research. These two conditions can be difficult to distinguish from each other and conditions can increase towards the end of pregnancy, sometimes lasting up to 10 years after giving birth.

The result of this may cause pain and discomfort whilst completing even the simplest everyday tasks and also reduce mobility. Subsequently many women turn to pain relief in the form of paracetamol, co-codamol and diclofenac. More than half of women affected are reported to have turned to this form of pain relief, all of which have possible side effects during pregnancy.
Many midwives support complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies. These are perceived as a safe and natural way to give women more control over their pregnancies. Recent research has provided some positive results supporting CAM therapies.

Figures resulting from a recent 6 week trial provided some encouraging information with the benefits of reflexology in particular.

A group of first time mothers in their 3rd trimester who were all suffering with LBPGP were split into three groups as follows: –

1. 6 weeks of 30 minute reflexology sessions and usual antenatal care
2. 6 weeks of 30 minute footbath treatments and usual antenatal care
3. Usual antenatal care.

All groups were measured in terms of heart rate and blood pressure figures and saliva samples were taken to examine levels of the stress hormones, cortisol and beta-endorphin. Additionally, there was access to the database used by the midwives detailing their labour notes.

Upon completion of the trial, it was noted that there was an increase in the frequency of LBPGP amongst the footbath group whereas the reflexology and usual antenatal care groups both experienced a decrease. Importantly though, the reflexology group produced a decrease of just over 4½ times greater than the usual care group’s figure. Therefore indicating how beneficial reflexology can be in the reduction of LBPGP and decreasing the use of medication.

Additionally, the figures relating to the labour of these different groups showed the advantage of reflexology during pregnancy. The group recorded a reduction in the length of the second stage of labour by an average of 44 minutes compared to the usual care and footbath groups, whose results were very similar.

The outcome of this trial indicates that reflexology can be of some benefit to women in their third trimester and subsequent labour. It is a safe therapy and can reduce pain and stress levels.
All of the participants in the reflexology group stated how much they had enjoyed their treatments and were in favour of it’s associated benefits. They also highlighted the relationship created between patient and therapist and the compassionate care and positive influence on the patient’s anxiety and self-awareness.