Reflexology for Deafness: Fact or Fiction? Part 1

Robert Traynor
October 14, 2014

r4In the past, Hearing International has reviewed Chiropractic, Acupuncture, Homeopathic Medicine and other unconventional treatments for hearing impairment. An investigation of another bizarre treatment r1for hearing impairment begins about 4000 BC in ancient Egypt, where hieroglyphic reliefs on the walls of the Sixth Dynasty Tomb of Ankmahor at Saqquara near Cairo.  

This tomb is known as the Physicians’ Tomb due to the array of medical images seen on its walls.  The use of foot therapy for hearing is implied by its inclusion in this tomb and suggests that the ancient Egyptians were rubbing feet, but there is no evidence that it was therapeutic or had any more benefit than a “foot rub.” There are also some suggestions that the practice of rubbing feet, now known as “Reflexology,” was used to cure deafness and other disorders in ancient China and Tibet as well.  Others have indicated that Reflexology, also known as “Zone Therapy,” was used by the American Indians to treat disorders of every kind, but again there is no evidence that the treatment was beneficial. (Click on the picture at right for a video overview of Reflexology technique).

What Is REFLEXOLOGY & Where Did It Come From?

Issel (2014) presents Reflexology as a holistic healing technique that aims to treat the individual as a whole in order to induce a state of balance and harmony in body, mind, and spirit. In her book, Reflexology:  Art, Science and History she summarizes the historical origins of this field. The procedure has been around forever but began in the modern world in earnest in 1771 r2Germany when Johann August Unzer was the first to use the word “reflex” relative to physiology.

Almost a century later in 1883 England an English physiologist, Marshall Hall, called these responses a “reflex action.”  Reflexology was often a topic of discussions in the English neurology journal called  Brain.  Special mention is of an article by Brunton (1878) that discussed the generation of a blister on the skin and it possible internal healing capabilities in that it generated significant interest in the medical community.  Brain also published an article that charted spinal segments and areas on the hands and feet to which they were associated by Head (1908) which ultimately led to the  Head zones that suggested the relation of the skin and internal organs. Head’s research on these Head zones eventually led to the r1r4establishment of dermatomes that now described in anatomy textbooks.   Even Palov’s famous dog was related to the reflexology (Pavlov, 1904) where it was demonstrated that the ringing of a bell could generate salivation in the dog.  In 1907, another Russian, Dr. Vladimir Bekhtrev, published his work on a concept he called “Objective Psychology”, defining the discipline as “the science of human personality studied from the strictly objective, bio-social standpoint”.  In 1932, Bekhtrev’s concepts would be translated into English and retitled as General Principles of Human Reflexology and somewhat defining how reflexology could be used to study the personality of man.  As the field developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries reflexology became known as “reflex massage”, especially in German where the technique was rapidly developing.  In a 1902 paper titled,  Pressure points, Their Origin and Significance.”  Dr. Alfons Cornelius observed that pointed pressure on areas of the hand and foot caused specific reactions in other parts of the body, such as changes in blood pressure,  muscle contractions or body temperature as well as changes in mental outlook.  The Vienna group also developed a theory as to how this pressure points worked,  postulating that the process is “a purely mechanical hindering of the sensitive neurons, the neurons of the sympathetic nerve system.”   While the reflexology concept had been around for centuries,  modern development of the technique began to evolved about 1913 with the interest of Dr. William H. Fitzgerald (1r3872-1942), a U.S. otorhinolaryngologist. Not much is written on the life of Dr. Fitzgerald, but he graduated from the University of Vermont Medical School in 1895, then spent two and a half years in Boston City Hospital, another 2 years at Central London Nose and Throat Hospital and for a period of time he worked in Vienna as an assistant to Dr. Professor Adam Politzer (1835-1920) and Dr. Professor Otto Chiari, where he was probably first exposed to the use of hand and foot pressure in his medical practice. Upon his return to the United States, he found that pressure applied to the nose, throat, and tongue caused the sensations in in those areas to r5be deadened. Fitzgerald’s 1909  “Zone Therapy” theory divided the body into five zones on each side of the sagittal plane and that the hands/ arms and foot legs were correlated with body functions.  He felt that without using rubs and other substances the simple application of pressure to these points could promote body function naturally.  One most important figures in the development of reflexology in the United States,  Dr. Fitzgerald was especially important as a credible member of the medical community, the senior nose and throat surgeon of St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, and an active member of most of the American medical societies. Dr. Edwin Bowers, an medical early critic of the procedure, investigated the Fitzgerald’s techniques and eventually co-authored  a 1917 book on the topic titled “Zone Therapy” that satisfied some of the skeptics.  The procedure remained somewhat the same and was quite controversial from 1915 runtil until the 1930s and 40s when Eunice Ingham (1889-1974), a nurse and physiotherapist, pictured at left, felt that the hands and feet were especially sensitive and mapped the entire body relative to the pressure points on the feet.  In the early1930s the discovery of the concept of proprioceptive action by Sherrington proved the whole nervous system adjusted to stimuli and  Adrian‘s discovery that the size of the nerve is what determines the strength of a nerve impulse not the intensity of the stimulus.  To reflexologists this meant that applying light pressure can be just as effective as heavy pressure.

Next week’s Hearing International will look at the research on Reflexology and the claims that it has cured hearing loss!



American Reflexology Certification Board (2014). Foot Reflexology:  A Brief History. Retrieved October 10, 2014:

Issel, Christine (2014).Reflexology: Art, Science and History, New Frontier Publishing, Frenchs Forest NSW, Australia.Retrieved October 10, 2014:

Image Credits:

Egyptian Hieroglyphics: Retrieved October 10, 2014:

Hands and Feet Massage Points: Nirviana Reflexology Spa, Retrieved October 10, 2014:

The Zones:   Moondragon’s Relm: Retrieved October 10, 2014:

William Fitzgerald: Modern Institute of Reflexology, Retrieved October 10, 2014:

Eunice Ingham: Montse Marin, Retrieved October 10, 2014:

Featured Image: BL Wellness, Accupressure Reflexology, Acupuncture Stones: Retrieved October 17, 2014:

Video Credits:

Brashier, A., How to Give a Reflexology Massage:  How to Start a Reflexology Massage, Retrieved October 10, 2014:







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