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Massage Pros Share Their Easy Moves for Your Best-Ever DIY Foot Rub + 6 Ways It Boosts Health Too

Plus, the genius tennis ball trick that ups the benefits!

Our feet take a beating every single day, supporting the weight of our bodies and helping us move around — and all that activity can lead to symptoms like tired and achy feet, burning heels, swollen ankles and sharp arch pain. Wearing comfortable, supportive shoes can help relieve some of these issues, but regular foot massage complements those efforts. And that’s not all. Whether you opt for self-massage, enlist the help of a partner or splash out for a professional, the list of foot massage benefits is surprisingly long. Here, experts explain 6 foot massage benefits and provide step-by-step instructions to help you get the perks today!

What is foot massage?

Massage is a manual therapy that goes back to ancient times. The Roman doctor Galen used it to treat illness and disease, and in China, massage has been used for centuries to address energy imbalances in the body. “Foot massage involves techniques such as kneading, rubbing and applying pressure to specific areas experiencing tension or pain,” explains Julie Schottenstein, DPM, FACFAS, FACPM, a board-certified podiatrist and the owner of The Schottenstein Center, which serves patients in Miami and Hallendale, Florida. (Click through to learn how a foot massage can cure plantar fasciitis pain, too.)

Foot massage vs. foot reflexology

Foot Massage Benefits Lead Photo: Woman having a foot massage at a spa
Witthaya Prasongsin / Getty

You’ve likely heard of reflexology, a practice that involves applying pressure to pressure points on the feet and ankles. These pressure points are believed to correspond with different areas of the body, says CG Funk, a licensed massage therapist with more than 30 years of experience and Chief Therapeutic Officer at Massage Heights. “Reflexologists stimulate these points to promote overall health and well-being.”

“Foot massage and reflexology differ in a few important ways,” she adds. “First, the techniques used in foot massage are similar to what is provided in an overall body massage session. The focus is to relieve tension and pain in the feet and promote relaxation.” Some people experience positive results from reflexology, but research suggests foot massage is generally more effective.

Foot massage benefits

Many people associate foot massage with relaxing getaways, but it’s so much more than a vacation add-on. Incorporating this practice into your self-care routine provides benefits for your mind, body and soul.

“Foot massage and reflexology are my favorite manual modalities to give and receive,” Funk says. “Because of the dense number of muscles, bones and nerve endings in your feet, these techniques not only relieve pain and stress but also offer a deep, relaxing experience, which is so important to our overall health and wellness!”

And that’s not all. Read on for 6 scientifically proven foot massage benefits:

1. Foot massage reduces stress and releases “happy hormones”

“Foot massage can induce relaxation, reducing stress and anxiety levels,” Dr. Schottenstein says. Indeed, a comprehensive review of massage literature conducted by experts at the Touch Research Institutes found that people who underwent massage experienced significant decreases in the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. They also had increases in serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals associated with feelings of happiness and well-being.

Related: Blue, Foggy and Fatigued? Your Dopamine Levels May Need a Boost, Doctors Say

2. Foot massage improves circulation

Kneading and rubbing the heels and balls of your feet eases tension and breaks up muscle knots, but it also improves circulation. Since many chronic conditions, like diabetic neuropathy and peripheral artery disease (PAD) affect blood flow to the feet, adding foot massage to your routine is worth considering. That’s because massage stimulates blood flow, enhancing circulation in the feet and lower limbs, explains Dr. Schottenstein.

Indeed, a study in the Medical Science Monitor concluded that massage enhanced blood flow. Another, in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that foot massage increased circulation to the feet in diabetic patients.

3. Foot massage reduces foot and ankle swelling

“Foot massage helps move lymphatic fluid out of the lower limb and back toward the core of the body,” says Dr. Schottenstein. “This is an amazing benefit to someone receiving the massage because it helps with pain, tension and range of motion at the joint.”

Research backs this thinking up. One study, conducted by Egyptian scientists, found that foot massage reduced foot swelling in pregnant women. Another, published by Turkish researchers, concluded that foot massage with grape seed oil was an effective treatment for pregnancy-related foot and ankle swelling. (Click through for more ways to shrink swollen ankles.)

Because health problems like kidney disease, infection and lymphedema cause foot and ankle swelling, they may also benefit from foot massage. Adds Dr. Schottenstein, “when there’s less swelling, you always feel better!”

Related: Easy Ways To Unblock Your Lymph System So Fat Just Falls Off

4. Foot massage eases pain

“[Foot problems] like flat feet, high arches or any other foot misalignment can set off a chain reaction, moving all the way up your body,” explains Myeisha Thompson, LMT, who owns and operates Amani Massage & Wellness in Arizona. “Relieving muscle tension and pain in the feet through massage can help reverse that chain reaction and prevent pain in your legs, thighs, hips and lower back.”

Researchers have confirmed the pain-relieving benefits of foot massage, particularly for those recovering from surgery. One study concluded that foot massage decreased pain intensity in people recovering from heart surgery. Another study found that foot massage relieved pain in patients recovering from neck surgery.

Foot massage can also relieve the pain of plantar fasciitis (PF), an overuse injury that causes sharp, stabbing heel pain. “For people with plantar fasciitis who have morning pain with the first step, massaging the plantar fascia while pulling back the toes can be a game changer,” Dr. Schottenstein says. “It helps make the first step less painful because it basically ‘warms up’ the fascial band, which may be tight, especially when you first wake up.”

Indeed, a study of plantar fasciitis patients found that twice-weekly foot massages increased mobility and significantly reduced PF-related pain. Keep scrolling for specific tips on how to use foot massage for pain relief, and click through for a natural plantar fasciitis remedy.

Related: Is Your Plantar Fasciitis Pain So Bad You Can’t Walk? Podiatrists Reveal Why You Likely *Don’t* Need Surgery

5. Foot massage promotes better sleep

A study published in the journal Menopause found that foot massage reduced fatigue and helped menopausal women sleep longer. Another, conducted by Brazilian scientists and published in the Journal Clinics (Sao Paolo) found that nightly foot massage increased the amount of time women spent in the deepest, most restorative stages of sleep.

6. Foot massage boosts your mood

Woman smiling
Prostock-Studio /Getty

A study published in the journal Brain Sciences found that foot and hand massage therapy helped older adults feel refreshed, and relaxed. Another, conducted on stressed-out college students, concluded that foot massage reduced blood pressure. What’s more, students who received a foot massage reported a decrease in tension, anxiety, anger, and hostility.

Similarly, athletes who incorporate foot massage into their treatment regimen report decreases in depression, stress, and anxiety and increases in mood and relaxation.

Get the benefits with a DIY foot rub

You now know that a foot massage can relieve pain and promote healing, but paying for one can get expensive! A professional foot massage can range anywhere from $50 to $90 per hour or more. Fortunately, it’s easy to give yourself a foot massage, or you can ask your partner to give one to you.

“Before you get started, consider your overall flexibility and range of motion,” Thompson says. “Most people can give themselves a foot massage either by sitting on the side of the bed or a chair or sofa.” Funk agrees, adding that you want to sit “comfortably where you can position your foot across your opposite thigh for easy access.”

Step 1: Soak your feet

woman soaking her feet in water: foot massage benefits
Westend61/Getty Images

After gathering your massage supplies, fill a bathtub or foot tub with warm water and add Epsom salts. “Soak your feet in the warm water and Epsom salt mixture for 10 to 15 minutes to relax your muscles and soften your skin,” Dr. Schottenstein says. Once you’re finished, remove your feet and dry them with a clean, soft towel and apply a small amount of lotion or oil to your feet.

Step 2: Massage this way

There’s no right or wrong way to give yourself a foot massage, but for optimal results, Funk recommends holding one foot with both hands. Then try the following:

  • Squeeze one side of your foot and then the other in a slow rhythm, moving your hands back and forth with gliding strokes.
  • Use your thumb or knuckles to press up and down along your instep, moving back and forth with the same gliding strokes.
  • Gently press your knuckles or thumb against your heel and make circular motions.
  • Gently press your fingers against your ankle and make circular motions on each side.
  • Carefully squeeze each toe from bottom to top like you would a tube of toothpaste. Afterward, wiggle each toe up and down and from side to side.
  • Stretch your foot forward and back.
  • Rotate your ankle in circles in both directions.
  • Repeat the same steps on the opposite foot.

The video below shows you how to perform some of these basic foot massage techniques. (Fast forward to 8:15 to get started!)

How a tennis ball can help

If you have limited mobility or stiff hands due to a medical condition like arthritis, giving yourself a manual foot massage may not be possible. In these cases, Thompson recommends using a physical therapy ball (like Acupoint Physical Massage Therapy Ball (Buy from Acupoint, $14.99) or a tennis ball to help. “After applying a small amount of oil or lotion to your skin, place the ball under the heel of one of your feet,” she says. “Then, press down onto the ball and move it from heel to toe.” 

The video below shows you how to use a physical therapy ball or tennis ball to give yourself a foot massage.

How to ease foot pain with foot massage

The instructions above are for a general foot massage. But If you have a specific foot problem that causes you pain, Dr. Schottenstein recommends more specific massage techniques:

If you have plantar fasciitis pain:

“Arch massage is one of the best ways to treat plantar fasciitis,” Dr. Schottenstein says. “Use your thumbs to massage the arch of your foot in circular motions along the fascia itself from the ball of your foot to your heel.”

If you have heel pain:

Gently rubbing your heels can relieve pain caused by heel spurs, arthritis and Achilles tendinitis. Since about 60% of people with foot pain report heel symptoms, Dr. Schottenstein says focusing on this area can support your mobility.

If you have Achilles tendon pain:

Your calf muscles play an essential role in foot and leg movements, so it’s important to massage them as well. Dr. Schottenstein says calf massage is very therapeutic for those with Achilles tendon pain. To get started, carefully squeeze the back of your heel with your fingers and thumb and apply gentle upward strokes.

Avoid these common foot massage mistakes

Foot massage allows for plenty of improvisation, but to reduce the risk of injury, there are several mistakes you want to avoid. Let’s take a closer look at four of the most common foot massage mistakes:

Mistake #1: Not inspecting your feet first

Before giving yourself a foot massage, look at your feet, including your skin and nails. “Make sure to check your feet, especially between your toes, to ensure there is no broken skin, from cuts or blisters,” Dr. Schottenstein says. If you start rubbing oil or lotion into these areas, “it can be uncomfortable, cause irritation and possibly even result in an infection.”

Mistake #2: Skipping massage oil or lotion

Woman putting lotion on her feet
fcafotodigital / Getty

While it might seem unnecessary, oil or lotion significantly reduces friction, providing a more comfortable experience. You don’t need to choose a special massage lotion, but consider trying several different brands. That’s because “some lotions dry too quickly, while others are too oily and can cause your hands to slip,” Funk says.

Mistake #3: Applying too much pressure

“Pressing too firmly on your foot can cause pain and discomfort,” says Funk. Dr. Schottenstein agrees, noting that you should “avoid applying excessive pressure, especially on sensitive areas. It’s okay to increase pressure and intensity over time, but do so gradually and based on your comfort level.” In other words, apply light pressure at first and increase the intensity as your feet adjust to the sensation.

Mistake #4: Rushing

A foot massage is never a race. To reap the greatest rewards, your movements should be slow and methodical. Although there’s no set rule for how long a foot massage should take, setting aside 20 to 30 minutes is a good place to start. Whatever you do, don’t speed through the motions.

Mistake #5: Ignoring pain

Foot massage is a safe and effective treatment for various issues, but severe pain may indicate an underlying health problem. “If you experience pain during the foot massage, stop or reduce pressure significantly,” Dr. Schottenstein says. “Persistent pain indicates an issue that needs attention. This is when you want to think about following up with your favorite podiatrist to make sure everything is OK.”

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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