Complementary therapies and dialysis. A pilot study

Cancer charities throughout the UK offer complementary therapies that can be used alongside conventional medical treatments. These therapies are associated with benefits like an improved sense of wellbeing, better symptom control and an overall improvement in quality of life. However, kidney patients do not routinely have access to such treatments.

Our experience as kidney supportive-care nurses, backed up by evidence from research, informs us that people on haemodialysis can experience many symptoms including fatigue, cramps and pain that can lead to poor quality of life equal to people with cancer. The kidney supportive care team, in conjunction with the GSTT Dimbleby Cancer Care Charity therapies team, undertook a pilot project to bring reflexology (a type of therapeutic massage that involves applying pressure to reflex points on the hands and feet) to patients on dialysis. The project was generously supported by GSTTKPA.

We identified 30 patients from the Astley Cooper dialysis unit for the pilot. We involved patients with difficult symptoms, who were older, frail, those just starting dialysis, and patients overwhelmed by the demands of their treatment. Each patient received weekly reflexology treatment to their hands or feet for 30 minutes over four sessions, delivered during their haemodialysis treatment. The complementary therapists administered the treatment while supportive care nurses assessed patients’ symptoms using the approved renal patient outcome score tool. This was done before the start of treatment and at the end of the course of treatment for comparison.

Three-quarters (75%) of patients who participated reported a general improvement in their overall symptom score. A few reported no change or even increased symptom score with the most dominant symptoms recorded as pain and anxiety/depression.

Feedback from patients was encouraging and included the following comments:

My urine output increased and I was able to lift my left leg (stroke side).

Loved it, was what I expected and more!

I feel a lot better—it has helped me sleep.

I can move my feet more, ankles are released, I have contacted my GP and physio for exercise.

Very relaxing—am sleeping a bit better and for longer.

Awesome, ankles stop hurting and no more cramping.

Enjoyable and relaxing, it’s improved my wellbeing. Feels like the nerves are starting to work in the right order

Feet were like coming out in pins and needles, am feeling relaxed & enjoyed it.

It has helped me continue coming three times a week for dialysis

In conclusion, it was a positive experience for patients as demonstrated in the feedback. We extend thanks and appreciation to the GSTTKPA and therapists from the Dimbleby Cancer Care charity for supporting the project.

By Sarah Watson and Winifred Yeboah