There have been references to working on the feet, hands and ears in many civilisations throughout history. An early Egyptian tomb drawing depicts what looks like a modern day Reflexology session and the fact that it was found in the Physician's tomb seems really relevant. The hieroglyphics read "Please do not hurt me" and the reply is "I shall act so you praise me".
Reflexologists believe that every part of your body is reflected in your feet and hands and that there are micro (miniature) versions of the macro (larger) version to be found all over the body, even on the ears!
Zone Theory and then Zone Therapy that Reflexology was originally based on, hypothesises that the body can be divided into 10 longitudinal zones, five on each side. Zone 1 would be the section from the big toe straight up the body into the head. Any area of the body that is compressed within this zone will (according to Dr. William Fitzgerald and Dr. Joe Shelby Riley among others) affect every other area within the zone. An early article published in the 1900's by Dr. Fitzgerald who was an ear, nose and throat surgeon, stated "To stop that toothache, squeeze your toe".
Reflexology as we know it today began within the medical profession. It was sidelined into the Complementary sector because, although it was acknowledged that it worked following substantial anecdotal evidence, there was more money and less time involved in writing a prescription.
The money was not spent on scientific research then but more and more research projects are underway these days to help validate the efficacy of a Professional Reflexology Treatment. Here is an A-Z of links to reflexology research trials.
Eunice Ingham was a physiotherapist working in the surgery of doctor Dr Joe Shelby Riley and his wife.
Dr Riley was interested in Zone Therapy and introduced it to Eunice Ingham. It is she who is credited with mapping the foot and hand charts we see today and devising the classic thumb and finger walking technique through years of painstaking research in hospitals and with her patients.
Eunice Ingham termed her method of compression "Reflexology" ('ology' meaning the science of) and the name has stuck ever since.
In the United States of America, reflexology grew through the work of Eunice Ingham and her followers, including Dwight Byers, her nephew.
In England it was Doreen Bailey who brought Eunice Ingham's Reflexology to the Complementary Health sector. Initially it was vilified, as it often is today, by people who have not experienced a professional treatment and cannot appreciate the often subtle way in which it works. Classic clinical research trials are not ideally suited to objectively assessing the efficacy of reflexology and as most complementary health practitioners work individually with the desire to help people, it is difficult to fund large robust clinical trials.
Reflexology is continually developing and progressing into a very effective therapy for holistic care.
Exiting new techniques mean that each treatment can be adapted to clients' specific needs and faster results can be achieved in promoting the body's own healing response.
Research is enabling us to learn more and more about how reflexology works, the power of the healing touch and the importance of hands-on therapies in reducing stress and tension. Even how amazing the power of the mind is over the body's responses - sometimes referred to as the Placebo effect. Stress is understood by the medical profession to be instrumental in developing and exacerbating many health problems. So it is imperative that we find effective ways of managing stress - reflexology can be extremely effective in minimising the effects of stress on mind and body. For more information on current reflexology research have a look at this list of research papers.