There is an ongoing debate among practicing reflexologists today on the origins of Reflexology. Some say Reflexology originated from ancient Egypt. Others say it originated from the Orient. Yet others say it began at a later time period. In this article we will see that although speculative information suggests many of the practices performed in ancient Egypt and the Orient were similar to Reflexology, modern Reflexology did in fact begin to manifest in 1917 with Dr. Fitzgerald and later expanded to what is being practiced today. Also, since this article is only an overview of what is being discussed today, it will not include all pertinent information and research on the beginnings of Reflexology.

Knowledge from Egypt Past

The only evidence available today of a possible form of Reflexology in the past was the discovery of a wall painting that was dated at 2330 B.C. The painting depicts, according to Egyptologists, two practitioners applying what appears to be finger pressure to specific points on a foot and hand to two recipients in the tomb of Ankhmahor (highest official after the Pharaoh) at Saqqara, which is also known as the physician’s tomb. Along with the wall painting, hieroglyphics were found as well. The translation of the hieroglyphics is as follows: "Don’t hurt me." The practitioner’s reply: - " I shall act so you praise me. " At this time, no determination has been made if there’s a relationship between the ancient art as practiced by the early Egyptians and Reflexology as we know it today. Prior to the discovery of the wall painting, it was widely believed that Reflexology had ancient origins and frequent arguments were made about its relationship to and development alongside the ancient Oriental practices of shiatsu and acupuncture.

The Beginning of Modern Foot and Hand Reflexology

Dr. William Fitzgerald studied at the University of Vermont and graduated in 1895. For two and a half years he practiced medicine in Boston City Hospital before transferring to the Central London Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital, England. He also practiced under the famous Professors Politzer and Chiari at an ear, nose and throat clinic in Vienna. It is believed that while in Vienna, Dr. Fitzgerald read the papers on pressure therapy, which led him to research these theories further. It was this research that led him to refine the zone theory.

Dr. Fitzgerald’s Initial Findings

In 1913 Dr. Fitzgerald brought his initial findings to the attention of the medical profession while he was head of the Nose and Throat Department of St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. He discovered that pressure, when applied to certain points on the body, could relieve pain and improve the functions of certain organs of the body. In his research Dr. Fitzgerald developed a system of ten zones running from the top of the head to the tips of the toes and hands. Dr. Edwin Bowers, medical critic and writer, investigated Dr. Fitzgerald's claims and, after satisfying his skepticism, jointly authored with Dr. Fitzgerald the book "Zone Therapy". Working closely with Dr. Fitzgerald was another medical doctor by the name of Dr. Joe Shelby Riley.

The Horizontal Reflexes Are Mapped

In 1924, because of his research with Dr. Fitzgerald, Dr. Riley published a book called “Zone Reflex”. In his book Dr. Riley, for the first time in recorded history, suggests the existence of horizontal zones going across the body in an orderly pattern. He also made the first detailed drawings of reflexes on the feet and hands that suggested a shape of the human body with the tips of the fingers and toes corresponding to the head and the heel of the feet and hands corresponding to the lower parts of the body. In his book, Dr. Riley also included an illustration of the outer ear with just a few pressure points. During Dr. Riley’s research, physical therapist Eunice D. Ingham worked closely with Dr. Riley and was fascinated with his research and started developing her foot reflex theory in the early 1930's. She proceeded to treat hundreds of patients where she carefully checked and rechecked each reflex point until she determined that the reflexes on the feet were an exact mirror image of the organs of the body.

After Eunice reported her findings to Dr. Riley, he encouraged her to write her first book entitled "Stories The Feet Can Tell" where she documented her cases and carefully mapped out the reflexes on the feet as we know them today. This book was published in 1938 and was later translated into seven foreign languages, which spread the benefits of Reflexology beyond the borders of the United States. Confusion between Reflexology and Zone Therapy began to arise at this point because a foreign publisher changed the name of Eunice’s book to "Zone Therapy." However, there is a distinct difference between the two therapies. Zone Therapy relies solely on the zones to determine the area to be worked, whereas Reflexology takes the zones as well as the anatomical model to determine the area or areas to be worked.

After the publication of her book Eunice found herself traveling around the country giving health workshops and giving book reviews. Only sick and dilapidated people attended these book reviews and workshops where she would teach people and discuss their particular health issues. As these sick people, whom everyone else had given up on, got better the word spread and Reflexology became better known amongst the medical fraternity as well as lay people. In the late 1950's Dwight Byers started helping Eunice Ingham at her workshops.

In 1961 Dwight Byers and his sister Eusebia Messenger, a registered nurse, joined their Aunt Eunice teaching at workshops on a full time basis. Seven years later they became responsible for the continued teaching of Reflexology under the banner of The National Institute of Reflexology. Also in 1961, the profession of physiotherapists objected to the word "Therapy" in the name "Zone Therapy". Hence, the name 'reflexology' was adopted. Other names adopted by other people for the practices of foot reflexology are:

• Pressure Point Massage
• Compression Massage
• Pointed Pressure Massage
• Vita-Flex

In the mid 70's Eusebia retired and Dwight Byers formed The International Institute of Reflexology®, where the theories and techniques of Reflexology were further refined.

Eunice Ingham died in 1974 at the age of 85 still thoroughly convinced that Reflexology could aid in easing the suffering of mankind. She was on the road with that message until the age of 80.

Eunice Ingham’s diligent research has led to several contributions to the world of modern reflexology. Her contributions are as follows:

1. The discovery that the reflexes on the feet are a mirror image of all the organs, glands and parts of the body - the charted map of the reflexes according to the anatomical model.
2. Alternating pressure has a stimulating effect on the body rather than a numbing effect as demonstrated by Dr. Fitzgerald.
3. Bringing Reflexology to the public and the non-medical community, as well as Naturopaths, Chiropodists, Osteopaths, Massage Therapist and Physiotherapists.

Ear Reflexology Arrives

In 1957, a medical doctor and neurosurgeon in Leon, France, named Paul Nogeir, documented for the first time in recorded history a complete reflex map of the human body located on the outer ear. Dr. Nogier is considered the father of Auriculotherapy, the medical approach of diagnosing and treating illnesses with medical implements. In 1959, Nanking Army Ear Acupuncture Research Team, China, verified Dr. Nogier's ear reflex map and also discovered an additional ear reflex map. This map is known around the world as the Chinese Map. Ear Reflexology uses both the French and Chinese reflex maps on the outer ears. But instead of using acupuncture needles, lasers, injections, and other medical implements that only licensed medical practitioners can use legally, reflexologists use specific touch techniques, applied to the outer ear, to help the different parts of the body relax, thus helping the body to better heal itself.

In Summary

We have seen that there exists speculative information that suggests that modern Reflexology had its origins in ancient Egypt and the Orient. But to this date there’s no concrete evidence that proves otherwise. We have also seen that in 1917 modern Reflexology began to emerge through the diligent work of Dr. Fitzgerald, Dr. Riley, and physical therapist Eunice Ingham, culminating to what is now foot and hand Reflexology. Furthermore, we discovered that in 1957, Dr. Nogier created the reflex map for the outer ears and the Chinese, in 1959, subsequently added to his map called the “Chinese Map”.

Reflexology has had an interesting and colorful evolution. What one must remember is that although it’s important that reflexologists know the origins of their trade it’s equally important to keep in mind that reflexology is a healing modality that must be practiced with love and compassion so our clients can receive the full benefit of our practice.

Author's Bio: 

- Certified Quantum Bio-Feedback Therapist-2008
- Certified astropsychologist/astrologer-2008
- Doctorate of Naturopathy-Clayton College of Natural Health-Oct 2007
- Certified Matrix Energetics practitioner-2007
- Certified Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner-Sept 2006
- Certified reflexologist, ARCB-2005
- Graduate of The American Academy of Reflexology-Aug. 2004
- Certified Reiki Master/Teacher-April 2002

Dr. Ibarra's been practicing alternative and holistic health and wellness since April 2002, and owns and operates Aviante Health and Wellness Center®. Dr. Ibarra began his practice with the creation of an alternative health modality called Integrated Reflex-Reiki® in 2004. Then, in 2005, Susan Nowelll-Ott and he founded Aviante Health and Wellness Center® in Thousand Oaks, California. By listening to what the client is experiencing, and researching the client’s lifestyle, they are able tailor holistic health programs that best fit the needs of the client.