Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reflexology and the Global Health Crisis

The challenge of providing health care is an issue around the world with CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) seen as a possible form of relief for governments struggling to meet health care demands of their citizens. So, where does reflexology fit into such a discussion?

While admittedly I haven’t carefully researched the issue, I was interested in what was said about it in a survey of American medical school students. In the recent research, it is noted “Complementary and alternative medicine is receiving increased attention in light of the global health crisis and the significant role of traditional medicine in meeting public health needs in developing countries,” said study author Ryan Abbott, a researcher at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine. “Integrating CAM into mainstream health care is now a global phenomenon, with policy makers at the highest levels endorsing the importance of a historically marginalized form of health care.”

Hmmm. If I were to substitute the word reflexology for “complementary and alternative medicine” or CAM, would it create accurate statements? Well…I suppose you could quibble over “developing” countries (China? Korea?). But … “historically marginalized form of health care?” I mulled it over…history…marginalized. OK, I can see that. We’re talking about the official sanctioning of an idea by the government and the health care professionals of a country.

You know what? I decided my problem was with the part: “Integrating CAM into mainstream health care is now a global phenomenon”—the word now, specifically. I state here and now, au contraire. Inject the word reflexology into these statements and what you have is not an accurate portrayal of reflexology. You cannot make such a blanket statement.

Take reflexology use in China, for example. You cannot say that integrating reflexology into mainstream health care is a phenomena in China. It is a fact established over twenty years of government and medical profession sanctioned use. And, twenty years ago they acted on years of research that established reflexology as valid.

China has a rich tradition of reflexology dating back millennia—and including ancient medical uses. In modern times, reflexology use for medical care has been under development with government encouragement for twenty years. In 1991, following years of research into reflexology by medical doctors, the Ministry of Health approved organization of the China Reflexology Association confirming the role of reflexology in “preventing and curing diseases, and preserving health.” In the intervening years it is probable that thousands of randomized controlled trials (RCT) have been conducted. Twenty years ago, it was research into constipation and reflexology. More recently it’s constipation with stroke patients and postpartum mothers. A Class One license is issued to reflexologists who practice in medicine. Patients are released from hospital stays and sent home with self or family reflexology programs to be applied. Today—now— the Chinese government has decided its million reflexologists are not enough—five million are needed and training standards need to be increased.

And guess what? It’s not just a matter of “Integrating reflexology into mainstream health care.” It’s a matter of understanding how the “traditional medicine” is utilized. Countries that have integrated reflexology into their mainstream medical systems have actually integrated uses of reflexology into society as a whole. Aside from reflexology use in medical care in China, reflexology parlors thrive with knowledgeable consumers seeking to “treat” themselves with reflexology (as opposed to expecting medical results), at home reflexology is common and senior citizens line up twice a day in parks to participate in the “fashionable fitness activity.” Chinese doctors discuss the healthy benefits of tap shek (reflexology path walking). The government has encouraged tap shek use including it in its ten year Fitness Plan and funding the building of paths in parks and sports/fitness centers.

And, don’t get me started about Korea. Their nurses undertook 59 reflexology studies from 1990 to 2007. It’s many more now. And, by the way, there are 20 reflexology paths in Seoul—some built just for children—with more scattered about the country.

So what am I saying here? Wake up Western health policy makers. Your counterparts in the Far East are a generation and more ahead of you in their successful use of reflexology to help their citizens’ health. Also, you’ll need to do more than just recognize how patients can benefit from reflexology use by medicine, more than merely making it another medical care service. You must explore and give credence to what individuals can do for their own health. Recognize what individuals themselves contribute by walking the reflexology path, applying self reflexology, and using reflexology for their families. (There are studies in all of these areas, by the way.)

Back to my main point: where does reflexology fit in for governments struggling to meet health care needs? That’s a tough one. Frankly, people are already fitting reflexology into their own health seeking habits. I guess, the best that can be said is that one day, policy makers will notice—maybe.

Barbara Kunz

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