Reflexology is a therapeutic method of relieving pain by stimulating
predefined pressure points on the feet and hands. This controlled
pressure alleviates the source of the discomfort. In the absence of any
particular malady or abnormality, reflexology may be as effective for
promoting good health and for preventing illness as it may be for relieving
symptoms of stress, injury, and illness.
Reflexologists work from maps of predefined pressure points that are
located on the hands and feet. These pressure points are reputed to
connect directly through the nervous system and affect the bodily organs
and glands. The reflexologist manipulates the pressure points according
to specific techniques of reflexology therapy. By means of this touching
therapy, any part of the body that is the source of pain, illness, or potential
debility can be strengthened through the application of pressure at the
respective foot or hand location.
Reflexology is a healing art of ancient origin. Although its origins are not
well documented, there are reliefs on the walls of a Sixth Dynasty
Egyptian tomb (c. 2450 B.C.) that depict two seated men receiving
massage on their hands and feet. From Egypt, the practice may have
entered the Western world during the conquests of the Roman Empire.
The concepts of reflexology have also been traced to pre-dynastic China
(possibly as early as 3000 B.C.) and to ancient Indian medicine. The Inca
civilization may have subscribed to the theories of reflexology and passed
on the practice of this treatment to the Native Americans in the territories
that eventually entered the United States.
In recent times, Sir Henry Head first investigated the concepts underlying
reflexology in England in the 1890s. Therapists in Germany and Russia
were researching similar notions at approximately the same time, although
with a different focus. Less than two decades later, a physician named
William H. Fitzgerald presented a similar concept that he called zone
analgesia or zone therapy. Fitzgerald's zone analgesia was a method of
relieving pain through the application of pressure to specific locations
throughout the entire body. Fitzgerald divided the body into 10 vertical
zones, five on each side, that extended from the head to the fingertips
and toes, and from front toback. Every aspect of the human body appears
in one of these 10 zones, and each zone has a reflex area on the hands
and feet. Fitzgerald and his colleague, Dr. Edwin Bowers, demonstrated
that by applying pressure on one area of the body, they could anesthetize
or reduce pain in a corresponding part. In 1917, Fitzgerald and Bowers
published Relieving Pain at Home, an explanation of zone therapy.
Later, in the 1930s, a physical therapist, Eunice D. Ingham, explored the
direction of the therapy and made the startling discovery that pressure
points on the human foot were situated in a mirror image of the
corresponding organs of the body with which the respective pressure
points were associated. Ingham documented her findings, which formed
the basis of reflexology, in Stories the Feet Can Tell, published in 1938.
Although Ingham's work in reflexology was inaccurately described as zone
therapy by some, there are differences between the two therapies of
pressure analgesia. Among the more marked differences, reflexology
defines a precise correlation between pressure points and afflicted areas
of the body. Furthermore, Ingham divided each foot and hand into 12
respective pressure zones, in contrast to the 10 vertical divisions that
encompass the entire body in Fitzgerald's zone therapy.
In 1968 two siblings, Dwight Byers and Eusebia Messenger, established
the National Institute of Reflexology. By the early 1970s the institute had
grown and was renamed the International Institute of Reflexology.
In a typical reflexology treatment, the therapist and patient have a
preliminary discussion prior to therapy, to enable the therapist to focus
more accurately on the patient's specific complaints and to determine the
appropriate pressure points for treatment.
A reflexology session involves pressure treatment that is most commonly
administered in foot therapy sessions of approximately 40–45 minutes in
duration. The foot therapy may be followed by a brief 15-minute hand
therapy session. No artificial devices or special equipment are associated
with this therapy. The human hand is the primary tool used in reflexology.
The therapist applies controlled pressure with the thumb and forefinger,
generally working toward the heel of the foot or the outer palm of the hand.
Most reflexologists apply pressure with their thumbs bent; however, some
also use simple implements, such as the eraser end of a pencil.
Reflexology is a complex system that identifies and addresses the mass
of 7,000 nerve endings that are contained in the foot. Additional
reflexology addresses the nerves that are located in the hand. This is a
completely natural therapy that affords relief without the use of drugs.