How to Give a Foot Massage: Variation and Techniques

Since the average American is estimated to take 3000 to 4000 steps daily (about 1.5 to 2.0 miles), it is common to experience foot pain. In addition to walking, pressure is placed on our feet while standing and sitting, contributing to foot pain. Given these facts, it's understandable that we may need treatment for foot soreness and pain, with foot massage being one of the safest and easiest methods.

Key takeaways:

Foot massage helps with foot soreness and pain, especially if caused by tightness of the muscles, tendons, and fascia (the thick, fibrous connective tissue under the skin).

Using your hands to massage your feet

Before massaging your feet, it's recommended to wash your feet and hands with soap and water first. Massaging your own feet is best done using the thumbs, but it can be done with any fingers. In addition, massage oils can be helpful.

Move the thumbs on the foot soles from the heels toward the toes, applying enough pressure to feel slight pain. You're not pressing hard enough if you don't feel any muscle tenderness.

However, for certain people, like those with arthritis, it can be difficult to massage your feet for a prolonged period. When massaging your feet, if you experience pain in other areas like your knee, neck, or back, we recommend you stop immediately.

Devices for foot massage

These devices help relax the muscles through direct pressure. In addition, they increase the circulation inside the muscles, reduce tension, and help with pain.

  1. Electrical massage devices. These devices use electric muscle stimulation (EMS) to send electrical impulses through your foot to contract and relax muscles, similar to a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine.
  2. Spa massagers. Use water to help apply pressure and relax the foot. They use water along with jets and vibration, similar to a jacuzzi. Some units have heaters to warm the water.
  3. Foot roller massagers. These are placed on the floor, and you roll your foot on them. Make sure you do this while sitting. These are made of firm rubber or some other material, smooth or with a textured surface; some are elongated, while others are circular. You can use a tennis ball to massage the feet, but a textured massage ball is much better. They can be purchased in the same size but are firmer and have a textured surface.
  4. Shiatsu foot massagers. They mimic the finger pressure techniques used in traditional Shiatsu massage. They are also believed to relieve the pressure points in the feet, as shown in the image below. These pressure points are based on theories of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
  5. Compression foot massagers. Use airbags to apply pressure, relaxing the muscles and improving circulation.
  6. Foot massaging slippers. There are slippers that massage and warm your feet. One type is called "massaging heated therapy booties."
  7. Foot massaging sticks. Many of these are wooden, and some are handheld to massage the feet manually.
Feet massage points

Do foot massagers help when your feet hurt?

A foot massage might help, and you can feel the effects immediately.

Evidence shows that massaging the feet at the pressure points relieves pain in other body areas. One study published in the BMC Medical Journal evaluated foot massage in patients that had undergone neck spinal surgery. The study found that foot massage helped with neck pain, reduced anxiety, and improved overall quality of life.

Post-workout feet massage

Even though no scientific studies prove the benefits of massaging your feet after exercising, it's not a bad idea to massage your feet after a run or long walk. Many people state using self-massage or the massage devices discussed above helps with soreness and pain after exercise.

Benefits of massaging your feet after exercise

The benefits of feet massage after an intense workout include:

  1. Reduces muscle fatigue. Your muscles can be sore after exercise. Massage reduces tension and improves muscle relaxation.
  2. Improves circulation. After exercise, the recovering muscles require oxygen and nutrient delivery via blood circulation. Improved circulation through massage can help muscles recover quicker.
  3. Reduces swelling. Massage increases lymphatic (drainage system) flow to improve drainage and reduce swelling.
  4. Reduces stress. Massages can be relaxing. Foot massage can help with relaxation and a better sense of well-being after exercise.
  5. Improves flexibility and agility. Athletes require good foot agility. Massage can help loosen the muscles, which improves flexibility and mobility.
  6. Prevents injury. The feet are less likely to be injured with improved circulation, reduced swelling, and improved flexibility. If a muscle is tight and fatigued, it is more likely to become injured.

An important note is that even though foot massage can be helpful after exercise, it is not a replacement for stretching, rest, and adequate hydration.

Does foot massage help people with flat feet?

Some people have a condition called flat feet, known medically as pes planus. It is a condition where the arch of the foot is reduced. These people are more likely to develop foot pain than those with normal arches. One study published in the Journal of Scientific Reports evaluated myofascial release (a type of massage) in people with flat foot pain and found significant pain reduction.

If you experience foot pain, there are several ways to treat it, including massage from your hands or devices as well as stretching, allowing proper recovery and sufficient hydration.

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