foot reflexology

What is Reflexology?

Reflexology works primarily with reflexes and through the nervous system. It is a non-invasive natural system of stress reduction and relaxation based on the principle that the body is reflected on the feet, hands and outer ears through reflexes found in these areas. The application of pressure to reflexes and the resultant stimulation sent via the nerve pathways, produces physiological change in the body. Reflexology gently nudges the body towards better functioning by improving oxygenation of cells, lymphatic drainage, and venous circulation through the relaxation process.

Representatives from the three national reflexology organizations: Reflexology Association of America (RAA), American Reflexology Certification Board (ARCB) and the National Council for Reflexology Educators (NCRE) approved the following new definition of Reflexology on August 31, 2016: Reflexology is a protocol of manual techniques, such as thumb and finger-walking, hook and backup and rotating-on-a-point, applied to specific reflex areas predominantly on the feet and hands. These techniques stimulate the complex neural pathways linking body systems, supporting the body’s efforts to function optimally. The effectiveness of reflexology is recognized worldwide by various national health institutions and the public at large as a distinct complementary practice within the holistic health field.


In the 1890s knighted research scientist, Dr. Henry Head, proved the neurological relationship that exists between the skin and the internal organs. Nobel prize winner, Sir Charles Sherrington proved the whole nervous system and body adjusts to a stimulus when it is applied to any part of the body. In Germany Dr. Alfons Cornelius observed 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 metal state of his patients. Reflexology is built on these concepts.

Since the 1980s there have been over 300 research studies validating the effectiveness of Reflexology on a wide variety of conditions conducted around the world, including the US. In Denmark Reflexology has been incorporated into the employee health programs of several large corporations saving each company thousands of dollars annually through the reduction of sick leave.

Brief History About Reflexology

In the United States, during the early part of the 20th century, Dr. William FitzGerald carried out research on Zone Therapy. He used gadgets to apply pressure to different parts of the body in order to anesthetize another area for minor surgeries. He theorized that the body could be divided into 10 longitudinal zones and that by working anywhere in a zone, the rest of the zone is affected.

Dr. Joe Shelby Riley, who studied Zone Therapy with Fitzgerald, took the discipline further. Riley was the first to make detailed charts of the reflex areas found on the feet and hands. Riley developed and added a manual “hooking” technique to apply pressure.

Eunice Ingham, a physiotherapist working in Riley's office, became interested in Zone Therapy and began, with the encouragement of Riley, to further investigate the relationship between the feet and the entire body. Ingham probed the sensitive spots on clients' feet and carefully observed the correlation between these tender areas and the clients' ailments. She discovered that intermittent pressure, as opposed to constant pressure, stimulated a healing response in the body. Ingham developed a therapeutic “thumb-walking” technique and drew detailed maps of the reflexes of the feet and hands. She worked on hundreds of clients and observed how, time after time, her Reflexology method, as she came to call it, effectively alleviated people's ailments.

Today, the International Institute of Reflexology carries on the work of Eunice Ingham through the direction of her nephew Dwight Byers.

It is important to note that Reflexology has its own history, theories, vocabulary, research, education, techniques, and national certification separate from any other manual therapy. It is not a form of massage. It is non-invasive and requires only the removal of shoes and socks.

For more information on the history of Reflexology, visit this website.

Reference: Issel, Christine. "Reflexology: Art, Science & History". 2nd ed. Sacramento: New Frontier Publishing, 1990.
None of the statements about reflexology on this website have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration nor the American Medical Association. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health includes reflexology in their index of health topics.

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