Ancient History

The Egyptians

In ancient Egypt around 2500-2300BC Ankhm’ahor was laid to rest.  His tomb is known as ‘the physicians tomb’ as many medical scenes are depicted including a pictograph detailing two men working on the feet and hands of another two men.  The hieroglyphics translate “Do not let it be painful.”  The reflexologist replies, “I do as you please.”

The Chinese

Reflexology is a subdivision of Chinese Traditional Medicine (CTM).  The ancient Chinese used reflexology and meridians to help keep the body balanced and recognised their importance when treating disease. Individual meridians either begin or end in the hands or feet, perhaps this is one of the reasons reflexology 5000 years ago was viewed to be effective and presently still is.

The Cherokee Native Americans

The Incas were thought to have passed on a type of reflexology to the Cherokee’s.  No actual evidence supports this theory, however, for generations these people have applied pressure to the feet in order to help maintain balance on a physical mental and spiritual level.


In the 14th century foot massage and pressure was used to aid the healing process and treat various disorders.


In the 1890’s in London Sir Henry Head conducted neurological studies proving the neurological relationship that exists between skin and internal organs. 

In 1932 Sir Charles Sherrington won the Nobel Prize when he proved that the whole nervous system adjusts to a stimulus, thus contributing to the development of zone theory.


Dr Alfons Cornelius applied massage to reflex zones.  He published his manuscript on pressure points and their origins and significance in 1902.

Reflexology Pioneers

Dr William Fitzgerald

An American physician, Dr William Fitzgerald, ear nose and throat specialist introduced zone therapy in the 1900’s.  He discovered that if pressure was applied to the fingers it could create a local anaesthetic effect elsewhere in the body.  Using various implements ranging from clamps to rubber bands on the hands he was able to carry out minor surgery on other areas of the body.  He was also responsible for dividing the body into ten longitudinal zones.  Each finger and toe falls into a zone, his theory is that parts of the body found within a zone link to each other by the energy flow within that zone.  He worked closely with Dr Edwin Bowers, their theories were not received with open minds from the medical profession of that time.  The exception was Dr Joseph Shelby Riley who went on to refine the techniques.

Enuice Ingam

Riley’s assistant Eunice Ingham, now known as the mother of modern reflexology charted the feet in relation to the zones and the effects on the rest of the body.  A map of the entire body eventually materialised and is still in use today.  Her nephew Dwight Byers founded the International Institute of Reflexology.

Doreen Bayley

In the 1960’s Doreen studied reflexology with Enuice and brought reflexology to Britian.

Hanne Marquardt

Trained with Ingham in 1970, she divided the feet into three areas using transverse zones.

References and Recommended Reading List for the Historical Development of Reflexology

Crane, B. (1997) Reflexology The Definitive Practitioner’s Manual Dorset: Elment Books Limited. Chapter 1 pages 1-3, 13-28

Doughans.I. (1996) The Complete Illustrated Guide to Reflexology London: Element Books Limited.  Chapter 5 pages 48-54

Fitzgerald,W.H. Bowers, E.F. (1917) Zone Therapy Ohio: I.W. Long, Publisher Chapter 1 pages 15-23.  Chapter 17 pages 171-185, 887-890

Issel, C. (1996) Reflexology Art, Science & History Sacramento: New Frontier Publishing.  Chapters 1-3

Marquardt, H. (1983) Reflex Zone Therapy of the Feet Vermont: Healing Arts Press.  Pages 17-27

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