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Massage, reflexology and other manual methods for pain management in labour

Published on 23rd October 2012

Smith CA, Levett KM, Collins CT, Jones L, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD009290. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009290.pub2

Massage, reflexology and other manual methods for managing pain in labour

The pain of labour can be intense, with tension, anxiety and fear making it worse. Many women would like to labour without using drugs such as narcotics or  epidurals, and turn to complementary therapies to help them manage the pain of labour. Many complementary therapies are tried and in this review we have looked to see if massage, reflexology and other manual healing methods are effective. Other complementary therapies like acupuncture, mind-body techniques, hypnosis and aromatherapy have been studied in other reviews. Massage involves manipulating the body’s soft tissues and it can be done by the midwife or partner. It helps women relax and so reduces the tension which increases pain in labour. Reflexology is gentle manipulation or pressing on certain parts of the foot to produce an effect elsewhere in the body. Other manual healing methods include osteopathy, shiatsu and zero balancing etc.

We found six studies, with data available from five trials on 326 women, looking at the use of massage in labour for managing pain. There were no studies on any of the other manual healing methods. The six studies were of reasonable quality but more participants are needed to provide robust information. We found that women who used massage felt less pain during labour when compared with women given usual care during first stage. However, more research is needed.


Keywords: pain relief in labour, massage, reflexology


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