Reflexology finds its scientific roots in a form of reflexology appearing in a pressure therapy called zone therapy, which was practiced in Europe during the 1500s. The working class, as well as royalty and upper classes, received pressure therapy to cure their ills. Science everywhere was exploding with new information as researchers around the world developed theories. Medicine in particular reaped the benefits of this research. From Descartes to Darwin, humans began to stretch their thinking by moving out of the box into infinite realms of possibilities.
Amidst this growth, the term “reflex” first appeared in the field of physiology in 1771. Further research in movement resulted in the concept of “reflex action,” which everyone is now familiar with. Thank goodness for reflex action or we would step on that tack!
Studies Affecting Reflexology Today
Throughout all arenas in science, European study evolved with major discoveries in psychology, neurology, and physiology, all of which affect reflexology today. From England and France to Germany and Russia, research from the late 1800s through the twentieth century was producing extraordinary theories and hypotheses. Much of that work is reflected in reflexology.
For instance, neurological studies connecting the brain and the entire nervous system illustrated how nerve endings in the feet could create a dialogue with the entire body. Conversely, stimulation of an organ can cause movement in the feet.
As with all work in science, there are different strokes for different people, which is demonstrated by the work of Sir Charles Sherrington from England and Dr. Ivan Pavlov from Russia. Both of these men have made contributions to the work of reflex actions, yet each is significantly unique. Sir Sherrington dealt with the entire nervous system in response, whereas Dr. Pavlov studied conditioned reflexes, the connection between a stimulus and response.
Never apply heavy pressure to a reflex or any part of the foot. It is not recommended to use tools other than the fingers. The use of steady, even pressure is most effective, whereas pushing hard or using inanimate objects such as pencils or so-called “reflexology” tools may cause injury.
Sir Sherrington earned a Nobel Prize for his work with the nervous system, a prize he shared with Edgar Adrian, who is considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern neurophysiology. Further work by Adrian brought about the discovery that the electrical intensity of a nerve depends upon the size of the nerve not the strength of the stimulus. This means you do not need to press hard to be effective in reflexology. What a great discovery!
In Germany, the medical community was also working with pressure therapy and reflexes. Dr. Alfons Cornelius wrote Pressure Points, The Origin and Significance in 1902. He developed the theory that applied pressure to different parts of the body assisted in relief of pain. He also recognized that pain had different levels of intensity.