Zone therapy is often considered the foundation for the theoretical and practical application of reflexology. In the late 1800’s, an English neurologist by the name of Sir Henry Head discovered through a series of experiments that there was a link between a diseased organ and specific areas of skin on the body. These areas often displayed a heightened sensitivity to pressure and touch that other areas did not. Twenty to thirty years later, an American doctor by the name of Dr. William Fitzgerald would take these findings and refine them into the practice of zone therapy used by reflexologists today.

Fitzgerald discovered that there were ten longitudinal zones on the feet and hands, which ran the length of the body. Five zones on either side of the body, with each zone corresponding to a section of the foot and hand that lead up to each toe and finger. See the diagram below. By applying pressure to these zones, Fitzgerald was able to create and observe an anesthetic effect in that part of the body. He became so adept at doing this, that he was able to perform small surgeries using his techniques.

zone therapy

Over the years reflexology has evolved into a finer application of these findings, but the underpinning of it has always been zone therapy. The practical application of zone therapy in a reflexology session can serve several purposes. If an area of the foot displays a heightened sensitivity to pressure, zone therapy can be used as a diagnostic tool for the organs and systems in that region of the body. Someone who is prone to chronic neck and shoulder tension for example may find that the toes, base of the big toe, and 5th metatarsal joint (pinky toe joint) are particularly sensitive. The good news is that applying systematic pressure to these zones will create an analgesic effect in the part of the body, essentially reducing tension and pain levels.

In addition, visual cues can provide a wealth of valuable information for what’s occurring in an area of the body. Bunions, calluses, and dry skin are just a few examples of these cues, which could ultimately signify a longstanding condition in a particular part of the body. The use of zone therapy can therefore help reflexologists ‘zone’ in on specific reflexes that may need extra attention. Having an open dialogue between the therapist and the client is also an integral part of the therapy. The simple reason fort this is that reflexology, or any form of bodywork for that matter, does not have to be painful experience to be effective. Research has shown that touch alone helps to release a flood of endorphins which the body uses to relieve pain. Staying within an individual’s pain threshold helps to relax the body while still creating the desired effect. The feet truly are mirrors of the body. And if we listen to them carefully and treat them accordingly, the health benefits could be immeasurable.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.