Reflexology – from Ancient Healing Art to Modern European Therapy

AkmahorReflexology is a healing method that has developed out of old cultural knowledge. Different forms of working the feet to affect health have been used all over the ancient world such as in Egypt, China, India and Japan. Although details of the exact principles are mainly lost, the discoveries that have been made give evidence that ancient health practices played an important role in healing and well-being.


Among the oldest relics are pictographs carved into stone which were discovered in the tomb of Ankmahor in Squarra, Egypt. The tomb holds a series of hieroglyphs which show a relatively detailed foot and hand treatment and dates back to 2330 B.C.


Ancient Chinese used pressure points on the feet for healing which goes back around 5000 years. A technique on the feet is described, for example, in the Chinese medical text, the „Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine“, where it is called the „Examining Foot Method“.


Researchers found out that Reflexology may also originate in Peru, 12.000 B.C. It is said that the Peruvian’s practice of treating the feet was passed onto Cherokee Native Americans. The Chirokee have applied pressure to the feet in order to maintain physical, mental and spiritual balance. These techniques have been preserved over many centuries and are still practiced in some communities.


In Central Europe similar methods have been described around the 15th century. According to Harry Bressler’s book, „Pressure Therapy“, a form of Reflexology was known and practiced mainly by the working classes in the centers of Europe.


Evidently, people in Europe, Asia and America have intuitively discovered numerous pressure points on hands and feet to bring about certain effects on other parts of the body to promote health and well-being.


Today’s methods of Reflexology are based on the work of Dr. Fitzgerald (1872 – 1942), an American ear, nose and throat surgeon who studied the art of “pressure therapy” in Europe. At the beginning of the last century, he started to treat organs through pressure points and he developed the so-called “zone-therapy” which was widely accepted in the USA and practiced by medical doctors and other health professionals.


Eunice Ingham (1879-1974), an American masseuse studied Fitzgerald’s work. In the early 1930th, she began to map feet points relating to different parts of the body. Ingham made the greatest contribution to the modern history of Reflexology. She was the first one to map the reflex zones of the feet in chart form and made Reflexology known in the USA as a self-help system. Ingham traveled throughout the US for over 30 years to teach her method, mostly to laymen. She described her work in two books, “Stories the feet can tell”(1938) and “Stories the feet have told”(1963).


Based on Ingham’s books, the German nurse and massage therapist, Hanne Marquardt, started to work with her patients in the late 1950’s. She wanted to prove the effectiveness of Ingham’s work and was amazed by the results! Marquardt became convinced that Reflexology was more than a mere preventive method. She realized the potential of this method and developed it into a refined therapeutic method.


Hanne Marquardt offered her first training course in 1967 to convey her knowledge to other medical professionals. She coined the term “Reflexotherapy of the Feet” to present the development from a preventive or wellness treatment of the feet to a mainly therapeutic tool. In Canada, “Reflexotherapy” is known as “Therapeutic Reflexology”. Whereas Reflexology is often practiced as a generalized method to support health, Therapeutic Reflexology is a method specialized to treat illnesses and diseases.


Marquardt has founded 17 schools in Germany and other European countries. These schools are only for medical professionals such as nurses, doctors, massage therapists, naturopaths or health care practitioners, and operate on a high professional standard. In many countries in Europe, Therapeutic Reflexology is now recognized as part of the complimentary medicine and is mostly applied in doctor’s offices, clinics, hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Therapeutic Reflexology is well integrated in the medical system. It is an accepted therapy prescribed by physicians and covered by extended medical care.


I was certified as a Natural Health Care Professional by the German Department of Health and then entered the Hanne Marquardt School in Berlin. In 2008, I immigrated to Canada and I have worked as a Reflexology Therapist with many patients in Langley, Surrey and White Rock. Therapeutic Reflexology has been proven to be a valuable and effective modality to improve health.