History of Hand Reflexology

Foot reflexology has been a welcomed complementary therapy for many people since the 1930’s as the feet are easily accessible and there is no need to undress. The hands are even more within reach. They are almost always uncovered and available for touch. Even with the most passive or comatose hospital patient their hands are available to be worked. Hand reflexology since the early 1980’s has become a complement to foot reflexology or can be used by itself.

Dr. William Fitzgerald (1872-1942), credited with being the father of ‘zone therapy’, discovered in the early years of the last century that if pressure were applied to the nose, throat and tongue, sensations in particular areas were deadened. This theory could also be applied to other bony areas including the feet and hands and other joints to provide pain relief. Zone therapy divides the body into ten zones—five on each side of the sagittal plane. The hands/arms and feet/legs were also divided into five zones each.

Dr. Joe Shelby Riley (1856-1947), trained by Dr. Fitzgerald further developed zone therapy by adding eight horizontal divisions to the zones of the feet and hands. His work is accurately the beginning of reflexology as it is known today—that is, reflexes found on the feet and hands that follow the anatomy of the body.

Eunice Ingham (1989-1974) who worked for Dr. Riley continued to refine and improve his work. From her first book, Stories the Feet Can Tell (1938) she mentions that the same reflexes are found in the hands as they are in the feet; when the feet are not available for whatever reasons the hands can be worked. Today, the reflex map and techniques for hand reflexology have been furthered by such authors as Mildred Carter, Bill Flocco, Barbara and Kevin Kunz.

In addition to the traditional placement of reflexes on the hands following closely the anatomy of the body, other systems include working with the meridians of acupuncture. Working on the feet to affect health can be found in most ancient cultures. The same is true of the hands. In the ancient classic, the Yellow

Emperor’s Internal Classic of Internal Medicine ascribed to Emperor Huang-Ti who died in 2598 B.C., there are descriptions of the use of meridians and acupoints of the hand to diagnose and treat diseases. Six meridian channels end on the wrist and six channels end on the distal part of the leg near the feet.

The Embryo Containing the Information of the Whole Organism (ECIWO) theory of Dr. Zhang Yingping (1973) documented in Fr. Josef ’s New Foot Reflexology (2007), site a micro-system (i.e., the entire body) as represented on the second metacarpal. The hands are also seen as a supplement to foot reflexology.

A presentation of Koryo Sooji Chim by Yoo Tae Wood from Korea at the International Acupuncture Symposium (1987) indicated corresponding points to the entire body are believed to exist on the 2nd digit in a straight line down the palm to the wrist. With the use of touch instead of needles this is sometimes known as Korean hand therapy.