There is currently no evidence that tickle torture was ever widespread or was practiced by governments. The very small amount of related documentation discovered thus far is all from England and America.
First, 'Orrible Murder: An Anthology of Victorian Crime and Passion Compiled from the Illustrated Police News (by Leonard De Vries, published by Book Club Associates in London in 1974) (pp 73-4) reissued a news item first published in the Illustrated Police News on December 11 1869: 'A Wife Driven Insane by Husband Tickling Her Feet.' The account states that Michael Puckridge had previously threatened the life of his wife, described as "an interesting looking young woman." Puckridge tricked his wife into allowing herself to be tied to a plank. Afterward, "Puckridge deliberately and persistently tickled the soles of her feet with a feather. For a long time he continued to operate upon his unhappy victim who was rendered frantic by the process. Eventually, she swooned, whereupon her husband released her. It soon became too manifest that the light of reason had fled. Mrs. Puckridge was taken to the workhouse where she was placed with the other insane inmates." (page 74) The husband was given away by Mrs. Puckridge's niece who was aware of the torture and spoke to neighbors about it. The article does not say if Puckridge confessed his crime to the niece after the deed was done, or if the niece actually watched the feather relentlessly scraping away at her aunt's soles, and ultimately, her sanity.
Second, a Sunday, September 6 1903, special to the New York Times included a small item on its first page (page 1, no byline), "Treated Patient Brutally." At the Hudson River State Hospital, one suicidal patient, John Hayes, was immobilized on a bed for his own safety. While he lay helpless, the patient's woes were multiplied by one of the hospital attendants, Frank A Sanders. "Sanders is said to have confessed that while intoxicated he amused himself by tickling the feet and ribs of Hayes and pulling his nose." (page 1) Sander's also gave his restrained victim a black eye. Another hospital employee came upon Sanders while he was entertaining himself at his patient's expense, and the criminal was brought before a grand jury.
The third instance of documentation is found in David Ker's New York Times article, "England in Old Times" (page 11 of New York Times, November 13 1887), where Ker writes, "Gone, too, are the parish stocks, in which offenders against public morality formerly sat imprisoned, with their legs held fast beneath a heavy wooden yoke, while sundry small but fiendish boys improved the occasion by deliberately pulling off their shoes and tickling the soles of their defenseless feet."
Additionally of interest, the April 14 1872 New York Times article (page 11), "Terrible Punishments: The Russian Knout and Turkish Bastinado--How the Punishments are inflicted," the author (byline of L.G.C., no name is given, only initials) refers to foot tickling in an effort to explain the intense pain caused by the bastinado. "I have heard men cry out in agony . . . but I never heard such heart-rending sounds as those from the poor bastinadoed wretch before me," the author remarks. Three paragraphs later he writes "Such is the bastinado. And of the intenseness of the agony which its infliction produces, one has only to think of the congeries or plexus of delicate nerves which have their terminus in the feet. Even 'tickling the soles of the feet has often produced death; what then must be the excruciating pain when cruel violence is done to those most sensitive members?"
The woman who was driven mad by tickling and the man who was tickled after being restrained as a madman shared a tiny shred of luck amid their misfortunes. The ones who tickled them were caught. Since it is likely that a feather or finger persistently tickling a person is going to leave few marks or none at all, we owe the first two accounts above to the fact that witnesses spoke up for the unfortunates who had been thus tormented. Otherwise, Puckridge and Sanders might have gotten away scot free, and these accounts of tickle torture would have been lost to posterity.
Another example of tickle torture was used in Ancient Rome, where a person’s feet are dipped in a salt solution, and a goat is brought in to lick the solution off. This type of tickle torture would only start as tickling, and in the end wind up being extremely painful.
The stocks are perhaps a device which gives credence to tickle torture as an actual torture method in that stocks are designed to restrain a person’s ankles, exposing their bare feet, thus allowing passersby to laugh and torture the soles with various methods such as tickling. The bare feet are left in the stocks, and are whipped after the tickling. This would only happen if the slave or prisoner still did not confess.
In the world of fetishism, tickle torture may be found as an activity between two partners.
A torture session begins with one partner allowing the other to rope them up in a position that leaves parts of the body particularly sensitive to tickling vulnerable.