History of Foot Reflexology

Modern reflexology is based on the work of two American physicians, Dr. William Fitzgerald and Dr. Joe Shelby Riley of the 1920′s and on that of physiotherapist Eunice D. Ingham who developed Fitzgerald and Riley’s knowledge into a usable therapy, calling it foot reflexology and took it to the public in the late 1930′s through the early 70′s.

The scientific basis to reflexology begins in the last century. In the 1890′s knighted research scientist and medical doctor, Sir Henry Head demonstrated the neurological relationship that exists between the skin and the internal organs. Nobel prize winner, Sir Charles Sherrington proved that the whole nervous system and body adjusts to a stimulus when it is applied to any part of the body. Around the same time in Germany, Dr. Alfons Cornelius observed that pressure to certain spots triggered muscle contractions, changes in blood pressure, variation in warmth and moisture in the body as well as directly affecting the ‘psychic processes’, or mental state of the patient. The Russians, beginning with Drs Ivan Pavlov and Vladimir Bekhterev, have also been exploring reflex responses in the body for nearly a century.

In the last 30 years, because of Eunice Ingham’s traveling around the country teaching groups of people her method of reflexology a grassroots following of reflexology emerged in the US. In that time practicing reflexologists have emerged, more than 40 reflexology books have been published, and the number of magazine articles published has risen by 500 percent since 1982. Television appearances by reflexologists have increased by 500 percent since 1988.

Today recent research studies have been conducted around the world, including in the US, which are validating the effectiveness of reflexology on a wide variety of conditions. Chronic conditions seem to respond especially well to reflexology. In China, where reflexology is accepted by the central government as a means of preventing and curing diseases and preserving health, over 300 research studies have shown reflexology provided some improvement to 95% of the over 18,000 cases covering 64 illnesses studied. In Japan and Denmark, reflexology has been incorporated into the employee health programs of several large corporations saving each company thousands of dollars annually in paid sick leave benefits.

Many of our health problems can be linked to stress. It is an acknowledged fact by the medical community that a body trying to function while under the influence of prolonged stress is less capable of organizing its defenses against illnesses and repair damage caused by injury. Stress can be mentally, emotionally, physically, or environmentally induced. Reflexology is primarily a relaxation technique. Reflexology can negate the effects of stress while it helps the body relax & balance. Through the relaxation process the body is more capable of dealing with the stresses placed on it by daily living and those associated with illness. Reflexology gently nudges the body toward better functioning by improving lymphatic drainage and venous circulation, stimulation to the nerve pathways, and muscle relaxation, helping the body to balance itself.

While historically reflexology has anecdotally been found to have a positive effect on the body suffering from a wide variety of chronic problems, it is not a panacea for all ills. Reflexology is not a substitute for medical treatment, but can be used as a complement to any type of medical approach or therapy. Reflexology can also be incorporated into an overall healthy lifestyle, which includes attention to diet, moderate exercise, and different forms of stress reduction.