Holistic Approaches for IBS Management. Part 2 – Clinical Reflexology & Counselling

In the last article I discussed the importance of diet and nutrition in symptom management of diagnosed IBS. How I can help you identify your food intolerances and support you whilst you conduct an elimination diet safely and effectively. The focus of this article is symptom management of IBS using Clinical Reflexology and Counselling.

Clinical Reflexology is defined as an advanced and specialised method of reflexology delivered in clinical settings such as primary care and hospitals. Reflexology is evidenced as producing a relaxing therapeutic effect and research shows that patients experiencing pain have reported beneficial outcomes following treatment with Clinical Reflexology. Pain, discomfort and bloating are recognised symptoms associated with IBS. So how can applying pressure to certain areas of the feet help with abdominal pain ? The key to Clinical Reflexology effectiveness lies in gaining access and balancing the neurological systems of the body. The skill is knowing which areas to access which particular nerves on the feet and in what order. The medically accepted existence of Dermatomes (an area of skin that is mainly supplied by afferent nerve fibres from the dorsal root of any given spinal nerve. There are 8 cervical nerves (C1 being an exception with no dermatome), 12 thoracic nerves, 5 lumbar nerves and 5 sacral nerves. Each of these nerves relays sensation (including pain) from a particular region of skin to the brain) divide the body in mapped patterns just like the foot maps of reflexology and meridians of acupuncture and are similar in everyone. However, the precise areas of innervation are as individually unique as the iris markings in the eye and fingerprints.  With this working knowledge it is possible to link the pain felt in the body to specific nerve pathways. Calming and balancing the nerves in such a way as to reduce or even block pain. 

I have always believed that there is a definite link between physical and emotional pain. IBS stands for  Irritable Bowel Syndrome if we take the first word” irritable” this is how patients tell me they feel when their bowel is “ playing up”. Often fed up with taking prescriptive medications that may cause side-effects or may not be effective and the impact of this condition on their quality of life. Severe flare -ups can be so bothersome that patients choose not to leave the house for fear of not being able to find a toilet if urgently needed. Creating a stress/symptom/stress cycle. Counselling can allow patients time to talk through their worries in a confidential and safe environment. Rather than a trained counsellor I tend to think of myself as a trained listener with skills to offer patients recognised techniques to manage their stress and anxiety. Allowing patients to explore how they are feeling and come to understand how they might make some changes. Talking through and demonstrating a range of technique, patients are encouraged to explore different models and choose which best works for them. Techniques such as Emotional Freedom Technique EFT which is also known as “Tapping” is a method of tapping on acupuncture points in a set pattern. There is more to this method than can be described here but it has proved valuable and is used in the NHS. It can be very useful when in extreme states of stress or at the beginning of a panic attack. Neuro Linguistic Programming NLP can help patients identify patterns of their behaviour that may be linked to their symptoms and they may wish to change. There is more to this method than space allows.  Breathing techniques can be used to calm and regulate breathing that can easily become out of control when stressed or in pain. Mindfulness is a method of concentrating the mind on the “Now” and along with meditation and prayer all are useful to focus, clear and calm the mind.  In summing up there is a lot of help that the holistic approach of Complementary Therapy can offer the IBS patient, provided the practitioner is a respected, experienced qualified professional.