What is Foot Massage & Its Benefits

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Foot massage is a massage style that focuses specifically on the feet, with benefits that range from muscle relaxation and pain relief to injury prevention and general wellness of the entire body.

What is Foot Massage

Foot massage, as the name implies, is a type of massage that focuses on the feet, one of the hardest-working parts of the human body. For more than 2,500 years, beginning in ancient China, foot massage has been practiced for therapeutic purposes, along with reflexology. Reflexology is a healing practice surrounding the idea that there are reflex points on the feet and hands that connect to zones stretching through the body and vital organs. In reflexology, manipulating these pressure points can affect energy flow and promote relief from certain health conditions. Reviews and studies of reflexology, such as this one from the Journal of Advanced Nursing, have largely been inconclusive, but there are thousands of practitioners and millions of patients who fully stand behind this treatment approach.

While some people get foot massages for these potential effects on the nervous system, others turn to this therapeutic practice for pain relief on sore or overworked feet. A 2010 study suggests that massage therapy can help people manage stress, pain, and health issues and aid in sleep. Our feet are incredibly hard-working body parts, but often get overlooked in self-care routines. A regular foot massage can do wonders for your comfort and endurance, with benefits to both your physical and psychological wellbeing!

Foot massage with oil.

Foot massage with oil. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Benefits

The primary benefits of foot massage include relieving pain, reducing swelling, promoting good sleep, aiding in the relaxation and improving mood, among others.

  • Pain relief: By manipulating the muscles of the feet and increasing blood flow, a foot massage can reduce pain and tightness. In terms of reflexology, it is also believed that the manipulation of certain nerve endings in the feet can reduce pain in various other parts of the body, including the back, neck, and head. It is also used in post-operative maintenance of pain in hospitals, as shown in this report from Pain Management Nursing.
  • Swelling: Many people suffer from edema, which is the swelling of body parts as a result of water retention. In the feet, this can be particularly painful, but a foot massage can reduce these effects. Edema happens very often in pregnant women, particularly in the last trimester, which makes foot rubs very popular with expectant mothers.
  • Sleep aid: If you struggle to fall or stay asleep, a foot massage before going to bed can increase circulation and promote relaxation, helping you slip peacefully into sleep.
  • Relaxation: The experience of physical touch is soothing to humans, and after spending the majority of the day on your feet, a foot massage can be the ideal way to unwind, clear your mind, and relax, both physically and mentally.
  • Mood and depression: Some studies have found that reflexology can have an effect on mood and depression. The specific targeting of certain pressure points is believed to induce hormonal effects and impact stress hormones. Some studies have also found that foot massage can be effective as an acute response to patients’ anxiety and pain in critical care.
  • Nervous system: While there is only limited definitive research on the effects of reflexology on the nervous system, this healing practice is believed to soothe the nervous system. This helps in reducing muscle spasms and cramping in the feet, as well as promoting a normal energy flow throughout the entire body.

Preparation

In terms of preparation for a foot massage, some people feel more comfortable washing their feet first. Wearing loose comfortable clothing is recommended, as is arriving early to any appointment, to prevent excess stress or rushing, which makes it harder to relax.

However, it is important to note that many people engage in a casual foot massage at home, both in the form of self-massage and from others, particularly before bed. In this case, little preparation is required, aside from a comfortable spot to recline during the massage session.

Word of Caution

While foot massage is intended to be relaxing, there are some potential dangers and possible side effects that have been reported. Manipulating the small bones and tendons in your feet, especially when the bones are pulled or “popped”, can be painful, so be sure to communicate any discomfort to your massage therapist.

Some tools are occasionally used in foot massage, such as a wooden spoon or roller, which can cause discomfort if applied too forcefully. Generally, there can be some discomfort during the massage, due to the application of pressure at sensitive reflex points, but there shouldn’t be any long-lasting side effects. Always be vocal about your experience during a massage of any kind; the key is relaxation, not a test of pain tolerance.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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