The History of Reflexology
Discover the Fascinating Origins of Reflexology Careers
Reflexology, a system for relieving pain through pressure points on the hands, feet and ears, has a rich and intriguing history that spans from ancient Egypt to the wellness boom of the 21st century. In its evolution from an ancient practice to a modern alternative medicine, reflexology has established itself as a safe, natural means to achieve overall healing.
An Ancient Practice
Dating back to 2330 B.C., wall paintings found in a physician's tomb at the ancient Egyptian burial ground of Saqqara show people receiving treatments on their hands and feet. Evidence suggests that the Chinese also practiced a form of reflexology during this time period and that healing arts akin to reflexology were used in early Japan, India and Russia.
Some experts believe that the Roman Empire helped spread a healing system similar to reflexology during their era of influence, and the health spas of ancient Greece also used this healing system until 200 A.D.
Reflex Therapy of the 19th Century
In the late 1800s, physicians and researchers in Europe and Russia began exploring therapies that involved stimulating one part of the body to influence another. They applied heat, cold, plasters and herbs to aid in curing pain and other illnesses.
While the idea did not catch on in the medical communities of the United States or Great Britain at the time, the study of reflex therapy continued in Germany and Russia throughout the century.
Russians Coin "Reflexology" in the 20th Century
Russian physicians of the early 1900s helped build the foundation for reflexology as we understand it today—the idea that reflex stimulation influences organs and body functions and has the capacity to cure disease. In 1917, the physician and researcher Vladimir Bekterev coined the term "reflexology" to describe the practice.
Zone Therapy in the United States
Also in the early 1900s, Dr. William H. Fitzgerald, an ear, nose and throat specialist in the United States, began publishing articles on Zone Therapy, the precursor to modern reflexology. This practice involved applying pressure to zones on the body that correspond to points of pain or injury.
Dr. Fitzgerald discovered that the application of pressure not only relieved pain but also its underlying cause. Through his practice, he developed the first chart on longitudinal zones of the body. One of his colleagues, Dr. Shelby Riley, expanded on Zone Therapy, adding horizontal zones across the hands and feet, subsequently determining individual reflexes according to the practice.
In the early 1930s, Eunice D. Ingham, a physical therapist who adopted Zone Therapy, found that she could more effectively heal some areas of the body through pressure points on the feet. With Dr. Riley's encouragement, she published Stories the Feet Can Tell in 1938, which documented her cases and provided a map of reflexes on the feet that correspond to the entire body.
Translated into multiple foreign languages, Ingham's book helped spread the theory and benefits of reflexology throughout the United States and abroad. Soon she was teaching at health workshops across the country where she would successfully treat people who had abandoned hope of finding relief for their conditions.
Ingham's nephew, Dwight Byers, and niece, Eusebia Messenger, soon joined their aunt in reflexology careers, teaching with her at workshops starting in 1961 and establishing The National Institute of Reflexology seven years later. After his sister retired in the mid-1970s, Byers formed the International Institute of Reflexology, a reflexology school where he continues to formulate and consolidate the teachings of Ingham today.
Eunice Ingham died in 1974 at the age of 85 after dedicating her life to developing and promoting the modern practice of reflexology and her belief in its ability to heal the human body.
Reflexology in the 21st Century
Reflexology endured its share of skepticism through the 20th century. But the wellness boom of the past decade and the public's expanding interest in alternative healing methods has helped reflexology gain acceptance among therapists and medical professionals interested in providing patients with complementary forms of treatment.
If a reflexology career interests you, formal training at reflexology school will provide the skills and business knowledge you will need to build a solid reputation and practice. Demand for trained reflexologists continues to grow in the 21st century, and the unique contribution you could make to this highly rewarding field will help to enrich its history further.
Virginnia E. Sivilla, 2007
Suite 101, 2008
Reflexology USA, 1999-2008
Search our directory and find more: Massage Therapy Schools, Acupuncture, Chiropractic, and more.