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More History of Reflexology

Touch or tactile manipulation, as a form of healing, has been used in one form or another in most parts of the world from the earliest times as recorded in artefacts, illustrations, historical and medical texts. Pressure points on the feet that stimulate the body’s own healing energies have been used throughout ancient history by many different cultures e.g. Chinese, Indian and Egyptian.


Foot map, showing locations of some of the body parts.

Reflexology has grown out of traditional Chinese medicine, originating in China several thousand years ago, which included acupuncture, acupressure and holistic massage.  

In traditional Chinese medicine, it is thought that energy or ch’i travels through the body via invisible pathways or channels and that when this energy becomes stale or congested, it becomes the source of illness or infection. Freeing the negative energy allows the body to re-balance and stimulate its self-healing potential.

The ancient Chinese eventually identified 26 meridians - pathways or channels - in the body through which energy flows and these are accessed by inserting needles or applying pressure to specific reflex points.

Zones and Modern Reflexology

During the middle ages, these techniques migrated from China to surrounding regions via monks, missionaries and traders, such as Marco Polo. However, the rationale behind them wasn’t necessarily properly understood and, over centuries, Europeans have independently tried to interpret, analyse and theorise their properties. Gradually, this contributed to a growing body of knowledge that became known as 'zone theory' leading ultimately to the development of ‘modern reflexology’.

Several pioneers advanced the research and, in particular, Dr William Fitzgerald, an American ear, nose and throat surgeon, encountered the phenomenon of zone theory while visiting Europe in the early 1900s. Back in the USA, he pursued the concept of 'reflex zones' as it had come to be known, and advanced the theory that when pressure was applied to certain parts of the body, anaesthesia and analgesia could be produced in other (distant) parts, assisting him in minor operations. He conceived the name 'zonal therapy' in which the body is divided into 10 longitudinal zones. Within each zone, there was an energy link between certain areas, allowing one area to affect another in the same zone.

Fitzgerald's work influenced many, but especially Eunice Ingham, a young massage therapist who developed it further by combining it with the more ancient pressure-point theory. Gradually, she realised that the whole body could be treated by applying pressures to the zones found in the feet and hands, and became the first to describe reflexology in its modern form. She believed that all organs and glands were represented in the feet and hands, and devised a way of mapping the feet (see drawing below).

Thereafter, Ingham devoted her life to bringing reflexology into the public domain, giving talks and demonstrations across the USA. Most authors and teachers have derived their basic knowledge of foot reflexology directly or indirectly from her teaching techniques.


Zones on the soles of the feet
Longitudinal Zones are attributed to Eunice Ingham. Transverse Zones were later developed by 
Hanne Marquardt (a German student of Eunice Ingham).

The Ingham Method forms the basis of many modern forms of reflexology.

Further reading.

What is Precision Reflexology?


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