Where does reflexology come from?

Modern reflexology is based on an ancient form of therapy. There is evidence of some form of foot and hand therapy being practised in China as long ago as 4,000 B.C. and also at the same time in Egypt, as depicted in the tomb of Ankmahor. The North American tribes of Indians are known to have practised a form of foot therapy for hundreds of years.

There is some confusion about the true origin of this powerful therapy, sufficient to say that it has stood the test of time and has helped thousands of people to better health.

The dictionary definition of a “Reflex” is “an involuntary or instinctive movement in response to a stimulus” or in the sense of reflection or mirror image.

The reflexes on our feet and hands act as mirror images of the body.

Zone Therapy was used as far back as AD1500. The American president, James Abram Garfield was said to apply pressure to his feet to relieve pain.

During the 16th Century a number of books were published on Zone Therapy, one was written by Dr Adamus and Dr A’tatis and another by Dr Ball in Leipzig.

The re-discovery of some form of systemised foot treatment is accredited to Dr William Fitzgerald who called it Zone Therapy and drew it to the attention of the medical world between 1915 and 1917. It was in 1915 that an article entitled “To stop that toothache, squeeze your toe” was published in “Everybody’s Magazine”, written by Edwin Bowers, which first brought Dr Fitzgerald’s work on Zone Therapy before the public.

In 1917, Dr Fitzgerald wrote “Zone Therapy or Relieving Pain in the Home”. Two years later, they enlarged this book and published it under a second title “Zone Therapy or Curing Pain and Disease”.

Dr William Fitzgerald (1872 – 1942) received his medical degree from the University of Vermont in 1895. He practised in Boston City Hospital for two and a half years before going to London. He spent two years at the Central London Nose and Throat hospital before taking up a position in Vienna as Assistant to Professors Politzer and Chiari, who were highly respected doctors.

Dr Ada Politzer (1835 – 1920) of the University of Vienna, was a well-known author of many medical books and made clinical contributions to the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the ear. Dr Otto Chiari, again an established authority, wrote several books on diseases and surgery of the larynx and trachea.

Dr Fitzgerald never published the original sources for his own therapy, but it is likely that he was influenced during this time in Vienna, by the work of Dr d’Arsonval. In “Zone Therapy is Scientific” by Dr W D Chesney, it is stated that in Germany, Dr d’Arsonval was using physiotherapy and getting relief following the use of reflex knowledge which, in effect, was what was later termed Zone Therapy by Drs Fitzgerald and Bowers.

When Dr Fitzgerald returned to the United States, he became head of the Nose and Throat Department at St Francis Hospital, Hartford, Connecticut. Around 1909, Dr Fitzgerald discovered, or re-discovered Zone Therapy. Almost ten years later, he wrote his book, about how he had stumbled upon the concept of Zone Therapy:

“Six years ago I accidentally discovered that pressure with a cotton tipped probe on the muco-cutinous margin (where the skin joins the mucous membrane) of the nose gave an anaesthetic result as though a cocaine solution had been applied. I further found that there were many spots in the nose, mouth, throat and on both surfaces of the tongue, which, when pressed firmly, deadened definite areas of sensation. Also, that pressure exerted over any bony eminence of the hands, feet or over the joints, produces the same characteristic results in pain relief. I found also that when pain was relieved, the condition that produced the pain was most generally relieved. This led to my ‘mapping out’ these various areas and their associated connections and also to noting the conditions influenced through them. This science I have named “Zone Therapy”.

It is worth noting that the Chinese had, in acupuncture, divided the body into longitudinal meridians by approximately 2,500 B.C.

From 1915 and into the early 1930’s, the subject of zone therapy was controversial, although it met with a certain amount of success with osteopaths and dentists.

One physician who did believe in Fitzgerald’s work was Dr Joe Shelby Riley of Washington. He and his wife, Elizabeth, credit Dr Fitzgerald as one who, in modern times, brought this science (ie. Zone therapy) to the notice of the public.