There is evidence of healing work on the hand, ears and feet throughout ancient cultures around the globe. A 5,000 year old tomb Egyptian physician’s tomb contains a 6 panel series of medical procedures including: childbirth, embalming, circumcision, pharmacology, dentistry and work on the hands, feet and arm pit. The pictograph shows the feet, hands and armpits being touched and has an inscription that reads, “Don’t hurt me” and “I shall do as you so praise me.”
Many site the existence of this last panel as proof of early reflexology. However, from this point forward there are gaps in the historical trail that are complicated by a lack of written history.
Across the globe, students of the Rwo Shur Method of Foot Reflexology of Taiwan believe that reflexology began in China 4,000 years ago. Could the trade routes of the industrious and prosperous Han (220-202 B.C.) and Tang (618-907 A.D.) Dynasty’s have spread reflexology to Asia and later Europe? Could the Dominican and Franciscan missionaries have returned home with this knowledge? Was reflexology originally part Traditional Chinese Medicine as part of acupuncture and moxibustion? Marco Polo is credited with spreading massage around 1300 A.D. Could he have introduced reflexology to the west as well?
In India, culture has been shaped through Hinduism. Amongst the shrines and temples of Vishnu, there is a footprint painting. Ancient Sanskrit symbols are painted on the feet. These symbols correspond to modern day reflex points. Coincidence or proof?
Credit is given to the ancient cultures of Arabia and Islamic physicians who preserved medical knowledge of the time by translating medical transcripts into Arabic. Did reflexology start in India, spread to China and then Japan through the trade routes and missionaries? Or was reflexology part of the knowledge of Ancient Greece and came to Europe through the preserved manuscripts?
In the late 1800’s Sir Henry Head worked with spinal cord injury patients and proved the connection between the skin and the internal organs. Later, Sir Charles Sherrington and Dr. Edgar Adrian were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work in determining that an entire nervous system responds to stimuli (proprioception) and that the response of a nerve was based on the size of the nerve not the strength of the pressure applied to the nerve.
Work in Germany in the late 1800’s early 1900’s by Dr. Alfons Cornelius showed that by applying pressure to certain trigger points, the body could be affected. He noted changes in blood pressure, muscle contraction, variation in temperature and moisture in the body as well as changes in the mental state of the recipient. He called this “reflex massage”. From here the use of the term “reflex” into “reflexology” begins.
Russian Vladimir Bekhterev is credited with first coining the term “reflexology”. For his purposes, however, the term related to the study of the human personality. His work has continued in Russia and expanded into the physiological as well as the psychological implications of reflexology.
What we call “reflexology” today was developed in the early-mid 1900’s in the United States and France. In 1917 Dr. William Fitzgerald published “Relieving Pain at Home”. Dr. Fitzgerald outlined “zone theory” which divides the body in a series of 10 “zones”. His work showed how applying pressure to a reflex on one part of the body could achieve an analgesic effect on another part of the body. Fitzgerald used electrical and non-electrical devices to apply pressure. Dr. Fitzgerald’s work was not widely accepted by the medical community of his time.
However it did catch the attention of Dr. Joe Shelby-Riley and his assistant Eunice Ingham. Dr. Riley introduced the idea that not only are there vertical reflex “zones” but that horizontal zones exist as well. Dr. Riley eliminated the need for “devices” to apply pressure. Eunice Ingham was fascinated by these theories and applied the anatomical model to the application of Zone Theory. She is known as the “Mother of Reflexology” and is credited with teaching the public about the benefits of hand and foot reflexology during the 1930's and 1940's. She is further credited with determining that by applying alternating pressure, healing increased.
In Europe, French doctor Dr. Paul Nogier developed “Auricular Therapy” in 1957. Dr. Nogier was able to use electromagnetic energy to map out the reflexes of the ear. His work was presented to the acupuncture community and further investigated and verified by China. In 1982, Bill Flocco used these theories to develop “Integrated Reflexology” which includes work on the ears.
Students around the globe continue to work with German born, Hanne Marqaardt and "Reflexo-Therapy". Marqaardt began her studies into reflexology to prove that something so simple could not possibly work! Fifty years later, her methods are considered a "specialty" for international practitioner's of both Alleopathic and Complementary care. As a component of national healthcare, Reflexo-Therapy looks and feels very different from western reflexology, yet the operating principles remain the same.
Today, Reflexology is the most sought after form of Complementary Care in Denmark and has hundreds of studies investigating its effectiveness published all over the globe. Reflexology is truly an emerging field that I find absolutely fascinating! I am thrilled to have the opportunity to bring this modality to South Whidbey Island and look forward to breaking new ground with my studies of “Anthroposophy and Reflexology Applications”.
This outline is compiled based on several reflexology histories. Wisdom Reflexology and Healing Arts did not conduct any primary historical data research. For more information see the sources listed in the more information section on the right of this page.