Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.

This section should be read in conjunction with the entry on Health: Therapies (General)

Reflexology involves the massage of specific zones, usually of the feet, that are believed to correspond to areas or organs of the body. Neither CAP nor the ASA has accepted the efficacy of reflexology to treat or prevent illness and CAP understands that the clinical evidence is, at best, inconclusive. These claims, however, are likely to be acceptable: helps relax; improves mood; aids sleep; helps relieve tension and improves a sense of well-being.

In 2011, the ASA investigated complaints about three websites advertising reflexology. The advertisers claimed or implied that many conditions could be alleviated by reflexology, including Parkinson’s disease, Arthritis, migraine, high blood pressure, fertility issues, cancer, Lupus, hypertension, prostate problems, depression, ME, Glandular Fever and ADHD. The ASA upheld the complaints because the evidence presented was insufficient to support the efficacy claims made on the website.

As well as being able to prove the efficacy of reflexology, practitioners who do not hold suitable qualifications are advised to avoid referring to conditions, the diagnosis of or treatment for which requires the supervision of a person with suitable healthcare qualifications (Rule 12.2). Moreover, marketers should not discourage consumers from seeking essential medical treatment. The ASA has ruled that by referring to ‘serious’ conditions, advertisers have discouraged consumers from seeking essential treatment and that the inclusion of a disclaimer explaining the limited role of reflexology is insufficient to address this concern. The Reflex Clinic website included a disclaimer that stated “reflexology is not intended to replace the relationship with your primary health care providers and the consultation is not intended as medical advice... It is not a substitute for medical care...”. Not only did the ASA consider the statement contradicted the overall impression that reflexology could treat the conditions listed, it considered readers could still be discouraged from seeking essential medical treatment (The Reflex Clinic, 26th October 2011).

Advertisers have also made claims for specific reflexology treatments, for example, facial reflexology and reflexology for fertility. Claims made for facial reflexology have included reduction in musculo-skeletal pain and headaches, the improvement in facial blood circulation and beneficial anti-ageing properties (Jackie Ginger Reflexology, 28 September 2011). Marketers have also claimed that ‘reproreflexology’ can ‘help to treat couples with infertility problems’ and ‘enhance the drugs being taken and to minimise any side effects’. Again, the ASA upheld the complaints on the basis that they were misleading and were not supported by evidence.

Testimonials have also been used to imply that a therapy has helped individuals with the relief of certain symptoms or conditions. The CAP Code is clear in that “Claims that are likely to be interpreted as factual and appear in a testimonial must not mislead or be likely to mislead the consumer” (Rule 3.47). Therefore, in the absence of robust scientific evidence, testimonials should not state or imply that a condition featured can be treated.

See AOL on testimonials.

Guidance on Health Therapies and Evidence Q&A

More on