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History of Reflexology

Historians have suggested that reflexology has been used for many years dating back to ancient times. The founder of reflexology is unknown. The development of reflexology has both Western and Eastern influences that are still being used today such as theories, science and practices of reflexology.


The origins of reflexology, dates back to 2500 BC to ancient Egypt. Evidence suggests in the ancient Egyptian papyrus (an ancient documentation) that reflexology may have been used as it illustrates medical ancient Egyptian practitioners performing hand and foot treatments to patients. Archaeologists during excavation in Saqqara discovered wall paintings in a physician’s tomb known as Ankhmahor dating back to 2330 BC. The paintings illustrated people receiving treatments on their feet. 

Reflexology in Buxton, High Peak

There have been further discoveries in China, Japan and India where stone carvings have been found illustrating ancient practices of healing techniques such as the feet. In Greece historians suggest that there was an ancient health spa called "The Delphi" where massage, hydrotherapy and reflexology were used to promote relaxation and well-being.   


It is suggested that many of the ancient techniques and documents from ancient Greece, Egypt and near East may of well of been lost and destroyed by the fire in the great library at Alexandria. These techniques may have been on the ancient art of reflexology and may have illustrated in detail the ancient manipulation techniques that were used on the feet including other forms of ancient massage techniques. Due to this, it is suggested that many of the ancient techniques and knowledge regarding reflexology may of spread throughout Europe by oral education.    


During the middle ages throughout the European social classes (14th Century) there are suggestions that manipulation techniques were carried out on the feet. The Florentine sculptor Cellini (1500-1571) was suggested to perform pressure manipulation techniques on hands and feet which may have helped reduce or relieve pain. Consequently there has been written evidence to suggest of a book published in 1582 by doctor Adamus & doctor A’tatis which was suggested to be based on zone therapy. This suggests that reflex and manipulation techniques may have been used on hands and feet in countries throughout central Europe at that time.

It is suggested that a German physiologist first used the word reflex in a book published in 1771 on the motor reactions in the body. Sir Henry Head from Britain created the head zone theory. The head zone theory suggests that certain areas of the skin may be influenced by internal parts of the body via the nervous system.


Nobile prize winners Sir Charles Sherrington and Edgar Adrian researched the nervous system and found through research that the nerve electrical impulses relied on the size of the nerve and not the strength of the stimulus which causes the response of an organism.


Doctor Alfons Cornelius from Germany suggested that when pressure is applied in a localised area of the body it has a changing effect on other areas of the body.


Nobile prize winner’s doctors Ivan Sechenov and Ivan Paulov from Russia researched the reflex actions between both external stimuli and internal responses. Their findings and research helped revolutionise understanding on the nervous system of the body. For example areas of the skin which are supplied by nerve fibres from the posterior spinal roots to the brain and vice versa.

During the early part of the nineteenth century an American doctor William H. Fitzgerald began to study the technique of healing which he referred to as zone analgesia (the relief of pain). Through extensive research his research suggested that when pressure is applied to certain areas of the body it created a dullness sensation effect which may be used to help reduce the feeling of pain. In his experiments he used clothes pegs, elastic bands and aluminium combs to apply pressure on parts of the body to reduce pain.


Doctor Fitzgerald separated the body into ten longitudinal zones (five on either side of the central line of the body). His findings suggested that the energy connects to the organs in each specific zone meaning that reflexes function along these zones. This suggests that if one area of the body was affected or out of balance the whole of the zone may also be affected. He also suggested that by applying pressure and stimulation techniques on a reflex zone it may help relieve pain affecting the organs as well as other parts of the body such as glands within a given zone. Consequently research findings suggested that it may help relieve the cause of the problem for example the pain may be far from its origin and transferred into another part of a zone.

Consequently Doctor Shelby Riley advanced the zone theory even further by including the additional horizontal zones across the hands and feet to enable to help to verify the individual reflexes of the zone theory.


Doctor Bowers a medical critic investigated doctor Fitzgerald’s theory of the ten longitudinal zones and jointly published the book on ‘Zone Therapy’. Eunice D Ingham a physical therapist worked closely with doctor Riley and studied and learnt both doctor Riley and doctor Fitzgerald knowledge on the zone theory and used it when treating patients. In the 1930’s she began to develop the foot reflex theory. Eunice D Ingram treated patient’s and began to record the readings of her patient’s reflex points until eventually she became confident in her research findings. Through research findings it is suggested that the reflexes of the feet were an exact mirror image of the organs of the body. These discoveries suggested potentials that a healing effect may well be accomplished by applying pressure from the thumbs and fingers on particular tender spots which linked to problem areas to another place in the body. With the encouragement of Dr Riley Eunice D Ingham wrote her research findings in a book called ‘Stories The Feet Can Tell’ published in 1938. The book contained a map of all the reflexes on the feet and hands as we know today. Eunice D Ingham wrote a second book called Stories The Feet Have Told published in 1963.


Eunice D Ingham also mapped the entire body onto the feet and hands and established the National Institute of Reflexology as well as travelling the world teaching and raising awareness of the therapeutic benefits of reflexology.    

A Swiss catholic missionary called Father Joseph Eugster was suggested to have suffered with arthritis that wasn’t responding well to modern Western medical treatments. During 1970 Father Joseph Eugster was sent to Taiwan to carry out his missionary work. Whilst in Taiwan a fellow priest was suggested to treat his arthritis and symptoms with the use of frequent reflexology treatments. It is suggested that Father Joseph Eugster symptoms reduced significantly from the frequent reflexology treatments. As a result from this, Father Joseph Eugster became eager to learn reflexology and was presented with a book called ‘Good Health For The Future’ written by a Swiss nurse Heidi Masafret.  Father Joseph Eugster learnt reflexology and eventually taught those who wanted to learn reflexology. Father Joseph popularity grew which led eventually to TV appearances. 


Throughout this period two brothers called Joseph and Thonet Tschen were taught by Father Joseph and founded the Rwo Shur Institute in 1982. The brothers continued Father Joseph Eugster teachings and methods of reflexology whilst Father Joseph continued with his missionary work. The Rwo Shur Method is named after Father Joseph which combines reflexology and Traditional Chinese Medicine theories and techniques. Father Joseph method in reflexology is suggested to be unique as it applies more pressure than Western methods. Father Joseph believed that his method alleviated the patient’s symptoms sooner and as such patients were counselled so that they were able to tolerate the pressure.    


Today the Association of Reflexologists (AoR) is suggested to be the foremost aspirational and independent Professional Association for reflexology in the UK established in 1984. The AoR is a non-profit organisation that provides advice and guidance to reflexologists as well as working with other external bodies and advisory groups to help promote the highest standards in the profession. 

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