Heart Support with Clinical Reflexology

CardioReflex is the title of a research study protocol I co-presented at conferences in Australia and Warwick University UK. The purpose of the study was to measure the effect of vagal nerve stimulation VNS via reflexology on the QoL of chronic heart failure patients. The research team consisted of a Professor of statistics, NHS cardiology clinical staff from Dorchester County Hospital and a cardiology Professor and his medical /research team from Poole Hospital and myself. Funding for the study came via NHS Health Education England HEE. The competition for funding was fierce, we were shortlisted and went on to win £15,000 to carry out our study.  The Award was part of a MRs/PhD pathway in conjunction with Bournemouth University. Sadly, the study collapsed, funding returned to HEE and my academic opportunity halted. However, my interest in vagal nerve stimulation VNS delivered by reflexology /acupuncture trigger points has never wavered. This research question came about because a group of my patients diagnosed with chronic heart failure reported symptom improvement following reflexology. Fatigue and weakness, shortness of breath with activity or when lying down, rapid or irregular heartbeat and swelling in the legs, ankles and feet. As these patients were stabilised on medication their Clinical Nurse Specialist was curious to find out why these symptom changes occurred. Apart from the obvious of reducing lower leg/foot swelling.  After contacting me and experiencing a reflexology treatment for herself she had a better understanding of the therapeutic benefits and theory of reflexology. How pressure applied to specific points on the feet might balance the sympathetic (fight or flight) and para-sympathetic (rest and digest) actions of the autonomic nervous system. The vital player in the balancing act is the vagal nerve.  According to Capilupi et al (2020)  The vagus nerve plays an important role in maintaining physiological homeostasis, which includes reflex pathways that regulate cardiac function and VNS  has been identified as a potential therapy for cardiovascular disorders. (1). The British Society for Heart Failure states 200,00 people in UK are diagnosed with heart failure every year. This condition is described as the heart being unable to pump blood around the body properly because the heart has become too weak or stiff. For most, heart failure is a long-term condition that can’t be cured. The heart is roughly the size of a fist and sits slightly left in the middle of the chest. It’s the muscle at the centre of the circulatory system, pumping blood around the body as it beats. Blood provides oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body and carries carbon dioxide and waste products away. The heart consists of four chambers two on the left side and two on the right. The right side of the heart receives blood that is low in oxygen as most has been used up by the brain and body. It then pumps this blood to the lungs, where it picks up a fresh supply of oxygen. The blood then returns to the left side of the heart, ready to be pumped back out to the brain and the rest of your body. The vagal nerve is the tenth cranial nerve (CN X) and is the longest mixed (sensory/motor) cranial nerve.  Its afferent (sensory signals to brain) and efferent (motor signals from brain to muscles) pathways comprise 80% and 20%, respectively. Originating from medulla of the brainstem it exits the cranium travels through neck, chest and abdomen to colon. It has many branches that action too many functions to describe here. Primarily it sends sensory information from the digestive tract (stomach, intestines) lungs, heart, spleen, liver and kidneys to the brain. It plays a vital role in sustaining overall wellness and counteracts the adrenalin response of fight or flight.  Nerve Reflexology is an advanced method that provides insight of the complex neurological systems of the body, how they work and how to access them from specific points on the feet. Not all reflexologists have this specialist training. The central nervous system is protected by the spine located on the medial edge of the foot, reflecting the natural curves of the spine from the heel (coccyx/sacrum, lumbar, thoracic) to the (cervical)  great toe and cranial nerves. I usually find T2 and T9 sensitive on the foot. The emotional language used by patients regardless of their medical condition speaks volumes. Words such as “my heart was broken” I have “a heavy heart” or I’m unable to get over “heart-break” all denote how emotions are associated with this particular organ of the body. So how can reflexology and the vagal nerve mend a broken heart ?  Honestly, it can’t, there is no quick fix. What I believe is that it has the potential to improve QoL and support healing processes. Patients may then feel their hearts are full of love for lifeRecently, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) has been investigated as a therapeutic for a multitude of diseases, such as treatment-resistant epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and asthma. (1). Reference. Michael J.Capilupi. Samantha H.Kerath. Lance.B. Becker 2020 Vagus Nerve Stimulation and the Cardiovascular System. Feb 10(2)a034173