Ancient technique of foot massaging, or reflexology, is an effective way to deal with cancer-related pain, says a new study funded by the National Cancer Institute.

Researchers from Michigan State University found that cancer patients who received reflexology treatment were able to return to their day-to-day activities better than cancer patients who didn't receive the massages.

Reflexology is based on the idea that stimulating certain points in the feet can improve functioning of certain organs and glands.

"Reflexology comes out of the Chinese tradition and out of Egypt. In fact, it's shown in hieroglyphics. It's been around for a very long time," said Gwen Wyatt, a professor in the College of Nursing and lead author of the study.

The study involved 385 women who were at advanced stages of breast cancer and were undergoing chemotherapy or hormonal therapy.

Participants were divided into three groups; with one receiving treatment by a certified reflexologist, second receiving foot massage by someone who didn't know reflexology and a third that received standard pain treatment that didn't involve any foot massage.

Patients who received reflexology treatment reported to have less shortness of breath, less fatigue and were more likely to be able to do daily activities like climbing a flight of stairs, getting dressed or going grocery shopping.

What surprised the researchers was that the people who received reflexology didn't report any improvement in mental stress like less depression and anxiety but reported that their physical symptoms of pain and fatigue were reduced after the foot massages by a reflexologist.

"It's always been assumed that it's a nice comfort measure, but to this point we really have not, in a rigorous way, documented the benefits. This is the first step toward moving a complementary therapy from fringe care to mainstream care," said Wyatt.

According to the American Cancer Society, there is little evidence to back reflexology, but small studies have shown that this therapy helps ease pain in cancer patients.

A recent study has shown that breast cancer patients who receive acupuncture therapy report to have less pain than those who get standard medical treatment for pain.