Reflexology is believed to date as far back as the Ancient Egypt. An early painting in the tomb of Ankmahor, a respected Egyptian Physician, depicts patients receiving foot and hand massage. The inscription reads, ‘Don’t hurt me’ and the practitioners response is ‘I shall act so you praise me’.
The birth of modern Reflexology started with Dr William Fitzgerald, an American Laryngologist who practiced in the early 1900s in America. Dr Fitzgerald had heard that Native Americans were using pressure point therapy to relieve pain. He combined this knowledge with research coming out of Europe on the function of the nervous system and the effects of stimulation of the sensory pathways on the body. He experimented with the application of pegs, elastic bands and combs, to apply pressure to reflex points to the fingers and hands to produce pain relief to another part of the body. Using these methods, he performed minor surgery on patients without the use of anesthesia.
From these experiments, Dr Fitzgerald concluded that the body is divided into 10 longitudinal zones, 5 on the right side and 5 on the left side. These zones run from the crown of the hand to the tips of the finger and toes. He called this Zone Therapy. He published his findings in 1917, in ‘Zone Therapy, or Relieving Pain at Home’
This research was of interest to a Physician named Dr Joe Shelby Riley, who shared his knowledge and enthusiasm with a therapist working in his practice – Eunice Ingham. With encouragement from Dr Riley, Eunice actively pursued this area of research. Although Dr Fitzgerald’s work had focused mainly on the hands, Eunice felt that another area of the body would be even more sensitive and therefore reactive to the Zone Therapy principles – the feet. She started a lifetimes commitment to research, precisely mapping tender spots on the foot with the body’s anatomy. She then put her theory into practice, developing the treatment method and recording the results from volunteer treatments. She called her treatment method – Reflexology.
In 1938, Eunice published ‘Stories the feet can Tell’ and ‘Stories the feet have told’, which recounted her experiences and theory. She spread the message throughout the United States by speaking at health seminars which gained in popularity. Today her nephew, Dwight Byers carries the mantel, internationally promoting and teaching the Ingham-Byers Reflexology Method through the International Institute of Reflexology.
It is from these beginnings that further specialised methods of Reflexology have been researched and developed. Providing Reflexology practitioners today a broader spectrum of techniques from which to tailor their treatments to their client’s individual health and circumstances.