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Reflexology History

The origin of reflexology dates way back to ancient history, when pressure therapies were used as preventive and therapeutic medicine. The evidence indicates that a form of reflexology has not only been practised through history but has featured in many cultures as well, but it is difficult to pin point when and where it all began.

The oldest documentation evidence of practice of reflexology was found in a physician’s tomb in Egypt. This dates back to around 2500BC-2330BC. The wall painting shows medical practitioners treating the hands and feet of patients. A form of reflexology was also practised in ancient India, China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Vietnam and Native America where a form of foot massaging and healing can be traced.

In the 1890’s in London, Sir Henry Head in his studies discovered a neurological link between the skin and organs of the body. After years of research he discovered ‘Head’s Zones’ or ‘Zones of hyperalgesia’.

The Russian influence of Reflexology in the late 19th Century was pursued using physiological and psychological scientific tests. Around the same time the Germans were developing ways of treating diseases through massage, which they referred to as the ‘reflex massage’.  

Dr William Fitzgerald referred to as the ‘Father of reflexology’ practised reflexology techniques in the USA in the early 20th Century. He practised medicine in Europe before becoming Head physician at the Ear, Nose and throat Hospital in Connecticut. It was through his own research that he became aquatinted with the theory of zone therapy. He theorised the body could be divided into 10 longitudinal zones from the head to the toes.

This can be compared to the Chinese concept of acupuncture, where the body was divided into longitudinal meridians. While working with patients Dr Fitzgerald found that by applying pressure on areas of the nose, mouth and throat it deadened the sensation on certain areas of the body. Also that by applying pressure to the hands and feet it provided pain relief, and when the pain was relived the condition that caused the pain was generally relieved. By mapping out these connections and associations, he called this ‘Zone Therapy’.

Eunice Ingham (1879-1974) ‘The Mother of Reflexology’ made the biggest contribution to modern reflexology. It’s because of Eunice and her hard work and dedication that reflexology finally established itself. Zone therapy was initially used in her work but because of the highly sensitive nature of feet she believed they should have specific targets which could influence the rest of the anatomy, so a map was devised of the feet that represented the entire body. She realised that by alternating pressure points rather than causing a numbing effect it promoted healing. Eunice spread the popularity of reflexology worldwide teaching the reflexology techniques and talking about its benefits. Today her nephew Dwight Byers continues with her work and he now runs the International Institute of Reflexology in St Petersburg.

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