An extensive review has failed to find good evidence which convincingly demonstrates reflexology (a practice involving applying pressure to, or, massaging feet) is an effective treatment for any medical conditions.

Details of the review, conducted by Dr Edzard Ernst, Director of Complementary Medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in the United Kingdom, were published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

"There is little doubt that a foot massage is pleasantly relaxing, however specific medical claims should always be supported by sound evidence," Dr Ernst said.

"In the case of reflexology, this unfortunately does not appear to be the case."

Dr Ernst searched six electronic databases and identified 217 trials related to reflexology.

After the methodological quality of the trials was assessed by two independent reviewers, all but 18 randomised controlled trials were excluded from the review.

Of these 18 remaining studies, 12 failed to show convincingly that reflexology is an effective treatment, five suggested positive effects and the direction of one result was unclear.

"The methodological quality was often poor, and sample sizes were generally low," Dr Ernst said.

"Most higher-quality trials did not generate positive findings."

Dr Ernst warned patients against using reflexology as a diagnostic tool.

"Most proponents of reflexology would argue that this method is free of risks," he said.

"However, if used as a diagnostic tool, it will generate false-positive and false-negative diagnoses. Moreover, if employed as an alternative therapy to treat serious conditions, reflexology can be life-threatening."

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

Australian Medical Association