Is Egyptian Reflexology For Real?

Egyptian reflexology
••• Is it Egyptian reflexology? Or a pedicure. Getty Images:

Spas are always looking for something new and different to promote.  Most spa lovers like to try any treatment they haven't had before, and anything new and unusual is a good way to get writers excited.

So my ears perked up when I heard that Hilton's eforea spa was introducing three 25-minute mini-treatments called "Journey Enhancements" to all its locations around the world.  One targeted the feet and lower, employing techniques derived from Thai Massage and Egyptian reflexology.

My first response was puzzlement.  Reflexology was developed in the United States in the early 20th century, and was called "zone therapy" in its earliest incarnations. It is based on the theory that the body is divided into ten zones running longitudinally from head to toe -- five on each side of the body. Practitioners believe that pressure on reflex points on the foot or hand will affect body organs in the same zone.

How could the Egyptians be practicing something that was developed in the United States?  

I discovered that there are three bas reliefs (wall carvings) in the tombs of Egypt that depict men's feet being tended to. The most famous (see photo) is found in The Tomb of the Physician, Ankhmahor, dating back to the Sixth Dynasty (2423 - 2263 B.C.E).  It is located in the necropolis (city of the dead) of Saqqara, a burial ground of Egyptian pharaohs for over a thousand years.

​The wall carvings in these tombs have left a rich history of Egyptian life, and in this particular pictograph it is easy to see that the man on the left is having his right foot cared for by a servant, and the man on the right is having his left hand tended to.

  According to the Papyrus Institute in Cairo, the hieroglyphic writing above the scene reads "Do not let it be painful" says one of the patients. "I do as you please" is the reply.

But what exactly is going on?  Most Egyptologists believe that the pictograph shows manicure and pedicure work being done on the upper classes, calling attention to the fact that there is some kind of implement being used on the hand.


Certainly, massage has been practiced since ancient times...and probably ever since there were people with sore muscles and a friend to rub them.  It is one of the most natural responses and one of the best ways to relieve pain.   

So even if the Egyptians were getting regular foot massage or discovered the same pressure points as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and American reflexology, it hasn't been passed down as a living body of work in the way that Thai Massage or acupuncture has.  It's poetic license to call it Egyptian reflexology.  It basically takes an ancient culture and combines it with a modern modality that most people understand means "the therapist is working on your feet." 

I think it's important because a restaurant menu wouldn't say an ingredient is from a local farm if it didn't really come from there.  (I hope.) 

These eforea spa mini-treatments were designed to incorporate ancient massage techniques, such as Thai massage and Indian head massage, and my guess is that Egyptian reflexology just sounded better.  

It's still a great treatment, which began with Sean pressing down on my lower legs in a slow, rhythmic fashion called compressions.  If you've ever had Thai massage it will be familiar to you.

 It helps bring the energy down to your lower legs and feet, which so often get short shrift in a massage.  Most of the time was spent massaging and working acupressure points in my feet, and I drifted way off into the ether.  I just wish they'd call it reflexology, in the name of accuracy, and leave out the Egyptian part.