The History of Reflexology

Early Evidence of Foot Massage

It is known that the history of reflexology stretches far into antiquity because illustrations, texts, and artifacts show that, in at least some form, manipulation of feet for positive purposes was practised in the ancient cultures of China, Egypt, India, Japan and Russia. Although it has been claimed that foot massage began in China around 4,000 years ago, specific details of time, place and methods used is limited. Not much is known about the attitudes, theories, or even the names given to such practises in ancient times.

Foot Manipulation in Medieval Europe

There are various accounts of the practise of massage or manipulation of the feet being performed across Europe during the Middle Ages. Harry Bond Bressler argued that a form of reflexology was practised across the European social classes during the 14th Century. It is also claimed that the Florentine Sculptor Cellini (1500 - 1571) used pressure on hands and feet to relieve pain. A book about this was published in 1582.

Reflexology since 1900

Modern reflexology emerged in the United States during the early years of the twentieth century and was initially known as "Zone Therapy". In 1913 the American surgeon William Fitzgerald (1872 - 1942) described a system of zones on the hands, feet and tongue that he argued were related to other parts of the body. Medical journalist Dr. Edwin Bowers recommended that Fitzgerald's method be termed "Zone Therapy". Subsequently, other American medical doctors, incl. George Starr White and Joe and Elizabeth Riley also wrote books on the subject. Fitzgerald extended this work and publicised it by teaching courses and seminars on the subject.

Reflex areas on plantar surface of feet

Eunice Ingham was an American massage therapist and physiotherapist who studied zone therapy under the supervision of Dr. Joe Riley. She went on to become the main pioneer of modern reflexology (though zone theory remains the basis of foot reflexology and is usually incorporated into treatments). During the 1930s Eunice Ingham refined 'Zone Theory' into 'Foot Reflexology'. She published two books, "Stories the Feet can Tell" in 1938, and "Stories the Feet have told" in 1963.

In 1966 Doreen Bailey, a former student of Eunice Ingham, returned to England from America and became the pioneer of reflexology in England.

Reflexology since the late 1960s

There are many modern contributors to the field of reflexology.

Ann Gillanders has worked with reflexology since the 1970s, amassed a wealth of experience and knowledge and written several best-selling books about reflexology. See, for example (and a great read): No Mean Feat: The Autobiography of Ann Gillanders.

Chris Stormer's analysis of how to interpret physical aspects of different areas of the feet, as described in his book 'The Language of the Feet' has become well-known and a standard text cited by many reflexology tutors.

Inge Dougans is known for her work concerning the interrelationship between reflexology, specifically the reflex points / zones, and the meridian lines usually associated with Chinese Medicine, as outlined in her book 'Reflexology: A Practical Introduction', 1998. First Published in 1992 as 'The Art of Reflexology'.

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This is not medical, First Aid or other advice and is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment. Consult an expert in person. Care has been taken when compiling this page but accuracy cannot be guaranteed. This material is copyright.

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