The history of reflexology

It is thought that reflexology has been practiced for thousands of years. The earliest picture of something that resembles reflexology was found in Egypt on the tomb of Ankhmahor, which dates from around 2,330 BC. Egyptians used massage as they believed it relieved pain and gave strength to the individual. The ancient Chinese also used massaged the hands and feet to prevent disease and promote good health. Evidence of reflexology can also be seen when studying the history in India,North America and Africa (Hull, 2011).

In the early 20th century, William H fitzgerald practised pressure therapy and believed that you could numb pain in one area in the body by applying pressure in another part of the body within the same zone. He called this zone therapy. His theory divided the body up into ten zones, five on each side, which start from the top of the head and run down to the toes. He practiced and demonstrated that by putting pressure in a specific place of one zone (such as the hands and feet) alleviated pains elsewhere in that zone. He even performed this on his skeptics (American Reflexology Certification Board, 2014). Edwin F Bowers, who worked with Fitzgerald, joined him in the quest to share and demonstrate what zone therapy could do and together in 1917, they published their book ‘Zone Therapy’. 

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Dr Joseph Shelby-Riley, who was trained by Fitzgerald, further built on zone therapy by adding 8 horizontal divisions to the hands and feet. He produced the first detailed drawings of the reflexes being mapped on the feet (American Reflexology certification board, 2014). Eunice Ingham, who worked for Dr Shelby-Riley as a physical and massage therapist, was encouraged to expand on the theory of zone therapy (Hull, 2011). Using her patients, she focussed more on the feet to work the reflexes and she gathered many case studies to support this theory, she published “Stories The Feet Can Tell”. She developed on the techniques that was used in ‘zone therapy’ and specialised in using her thumbs and fingers to treat people (Stone, 2011). She coined the term “reflexology’, meaning the science of the reflexes. She produced maps and charts of the feet which are still used today.

Mildred Carter, who studied with Ingham, built on the philosophy further by identifying reflex points in the body and mapping the body on the feet. She also took an holistic approach and how much a person's lifestyle can affect their well-being and introduced energy flows and vital energy points located through the body and that by relieving these would also benefit the person (American Reflexology Certification Board, 2014).