Reflexology dates back to ancient Egypt, as shown by carved pictographs with accompanying hieroglyphics that were discovered by archaeologists in Saqqara, Egypt. The engraved images that were found in a tomb of a physician named Ankhmahor depict two men holding the feet of two other men, with inscriptions that imply that two of them were conversing. The hieroglyphics were loosely translated, thus: “do not let me feel pain,” followed by a response of the person treating the feet, “I will act as you please.”
Medical scholars and historians believe that the precursor to reflexology spread from olden Egypt to the rest of Europe with the help of the Roman Empire. Historical word-of-mouth accounts alleged that Emperor Augustus (back when he was still known as Octavian) once remarked that Roman politician Mark Antony massaged Cleopatra VII’s feet “at dinner parties.”
There is also evidence that some basic, derivative form of physical therapy involving foot massage was a common practice by the Chinese since 2330 BCE. Moreover, North American Indians back in the 17th century were reportedly given the gift of this ancient medical knowledge when it was eventually passed on to them by members of the Peruvian Inca civilization. In turn, these highly advanced ethnic groups from Latin America had practiced this alternative form of medicinal treatment, which dated back as far as 12000 BCE.
No further records of reflexology were known to exist in written form between the time when the ancient Egyptian inscription was written and the period when Europeans colonized America during the 1600s.
With the budget of attempts at empirical studies on the neurological effect of human reflexes in 19th century London, the earliest known historical account of what is known as contemporary reflexology in the Western hemisphere happened in 1913. A doctor who formerly specialized in ear-nose-throat surgery introduced techniques to cut body pain without using chemical medication to mainstream society in the United States. William Fitzgerald pioneered applying therapeutic pressure to particular areas in the foot to cut throbbing in other parts of the body, which enabled him to apply less anaesthesia to his patients when performing minor surgical operations.
Calling his method “zone therapy,” the doctor concluded that applying physical pressure to certain points in the body—particularly the digits of our toes as well as our fingers—lessens the feeling of discomfort by the patient to the point that the routine can be solely used as an effective substitute to anaesthesia. Moreover, not only did it ease the soreness, but it also stopped the source of pain, in essence, the real cause of a patient’s illness.
Eventually, a colleague of his, Dr Edwin Bowers, joined him in publishing a book in 1917 based on the somatic techniques that Fitzgerald helped popularize. Although medical experts at that time initially panned the tome, it was clear that a growing number of Americans have started to explore the possibility of applying alternative means of relieving stress by means of this early form of modern reflexology.