I grew up thinking I was a freak of nature
Between the ages of 12 and 35 I lost an entire day of my life every month because of agonising period pains. Most months I writhed, vomited, sweated and at times hallucinated, and after 6 hours or so of horrendous spasms of pain I was left utterly exhausted. To add insult to injury, my (female) biology teacher once told my entire class that period pain wasn’t actually a thing (solidarity, eh?). It took me years to realise that I wasn’t actually some kind of freak of nature. I was put on tablet after tablet by my GP and nothing helped much; not even the contraceptive pill. I developed a long-term monthly dependence on Ibuprofen which in turn messed with my digestive system (it’s naturally quite impossible to eat with your painkillers when you’re constantly throwing up).
I started having regular reflexology for something entirely unrelated and it wasn’t until I’d been having regular treatments for a few months that it dawned on me that my menstrual cramps were becoming a lot more bearable. In fact I think I perhaps only had two or three really bad days from that point until my periods stopped for good. This was one of the things that made me decide to find out more about reflexology and book myself on a course to learn how to do it.
Some research into reflexology and severe menstrual pain
Several years after I initially qualified I decided to learn Advanced Reflexology Techniques (ART) with world-renowned reflexologist Tony Porter. During the course he told us about a pilot research study that he’d conducted with a gynaecological surgeon called Lindsay McMillan. Here’s a summary of that research:
“In a conventional reflexology trial on patients with dysmenorrhoea (severe menstrual pain) at Whipps Cross hospital in London, consultant gynaecological surgeon, the late Mr Lindsay McMillan, describes how his year–long trial was not completed as it became blatantly obvious that ART Reflexology was far superior to the then current treatment for severe dysmenorrhoea.
The late Mr Lindsay McMillan worked closely throughout the trial with reflexologist Tony Porter, and outlines the trial and results below:
In 1994 I took a number of young women who all suffered refractory Dysmenorrhoea and complained of pain at the time of their periods. Many of these women would be hospitalised due to their extreme discomfort. All these patients had conventional treatment, such as combined oral contraceptives, non–steroidal anti–inflammatories and analgesia at the time of their periods with little or no effect on their pain.
At that time there was a theory that if one transacted the nerve fibres that run on the medial aspect of both Uterosacral ligaments this would cure the pain experienced at the time of their periods, but I had serious doubts about this.
Knowing Tony Porter could often alleviate dysmenorrhoea with reflexology, we set up a pilot trial which involved me choosing the patients and randomly selecting them for either surgery, or a course of reflexology.
By the end of 10 months, when we began to correlate the figures, it became obvious that Tony’s success in alleviating severe dysmenorrhoea in these women was in the region of 85 – 90%, whereas in surgical treatment it was less than half that figure.
It was at this point that I made the difficult decision that I could not submit women for a potentially dangerous procedure under general anaesthesia when it seemed the results were so unfavourable compared to reflexology.
In the management of chronic pelvic pain, reflexology is an invaluable and often essential tool. The evidence would suggest that for the treatment of common menstrual pain, reflexology is the best non-invasive, non-drug treatment.”
Lindsay McMillan FRCOG
Naturally I’m not in a position to offer any guarantees about the efficacy of reflexology on severe period pain, but I do know that it appeared to help me. The findings of this small research study, along with anecdotal feedback from my own clients, seem to indicate that it has helped other women too.