10 Health Benefits of Foot Massage and Reflexology

Massage therapy began thousands of years ago in ancient cultures who believed it came from divine origin, and used it as a natural way of healing… Elizabeth Lilian - March 9, 2017

Massage therapy began thousands of years ago in ancient cultures who believed it came from divine origin, and used it as a natural way of healing injuries, relieving pain, and even curing illness. The first known recordings of massage were found in China and Egypt, and in fact, the Egyptians are credited with the creation of reflexology, a subset of massage that involves manipulation of acupressure points around the body.

Since then, massage has become a widely popular practice, all around the world. There are various types of massage including Swedish massage, deep massage, sports massage and trigger point massage, and all have varying benefits. The entire body can be massaged, and some studies believe massage may help issues like anxiety, digestion, headaches, insomnia, joint pain, soft tissue strain and much more. Foot massages especially can provide many health benefits.

Here are the top 10 health benefits of foot massage and reflexology.

1. Promotes Better Sleep

Sleep is vital to good health. It is impossible to be healthy when you’re lacking in the sleep department, because so many bodily processes occur while we’re asleep that when we don’t get enough, we begin to get run down. During sleep, our body is still working hard to heal damaged cells, recover from daily activity and recharge the brain and cardiovascular systems, readying us for the next day.

When we don’t get enough sleep, we begin to feel drowsy, irritable and often depressed. We might start struggling to understand or remember things, and we might crave more unhealthy foods which can contribute to weight gain. Many things can cause lack of sleep, such as stress, illness, medical issues or environmental factors like alcohol or drug use. It’s normal to have struggled with sleep every now and then, but if it happens too frequently it can become a real problem.

Not only does healthy sleep promote a healthy body, it also promotes a healthy mind. According to the National Sleep Foundation, people with insomnia are 10 times as likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression. Disrupted sleep can lead to emotional and physical changes, but luckily there are many different ways to get your sleeping back on track. Foot massage can benefit those with sleeping problems, and it’s easy enough to do every night before bed.

According to reflexology, there are certain pressure points that are also used in acupuncture to promote better sleep. Pay particular attention to the solar plexus, which can be found by squeezing the top of the foot gently and feeling for a small, dimpled space on the sole of the foot, near the big toe. This is the solar plexus, and it’s believed to encourage deep, restful sleep when it’s massaged. Do so by gently pressing in and massaging for at least one minute on each foot. Follow this with a whole-foot massage using warm coconut or olive oil.

2. Improves Blood Circulation

Blood circulation is also known as systemic circulation, and it applies to the oxygenated blood that flows away from the heart and around the body, deoxygenating as it goes, before returning back to the heart. This circulatory system supplies the entire body with blood, enabling it to function effectively. Blood circulation also provides oxygen and nutrients to the cells, and picks up waste products like carbon dioxide along the way.

Healthy blood circulation is an essential part of healthy living. Circulation begins to decline as we age, but it can worsen due to things like medical conditions, unhealthy diet, smoking and lack of physical activity. Symptoms of poor circulation include numbness, cold extremities, fatigue, vertigo, and swelling of the hands and feet. If you’re suffering from poor circulation, there are many things you can do to reverse it. Exercise, stretching, eating a healthy diet, drinking lots of water and avoiding smoking are some of the lifestyle changes you can make.

Massage is another way to treat poor circulation. The pressure of massage therapy stimulates the circulatory system because the techniques involved actually begin to move the blood through areas where congestion occurs. As fluid starts to flow properly through the body, it causes a release of pressure that enables new blood to flow in. This squeezing and manipulation of the muscles also help release lactic acid, which improves the functioning of the lymph system which helps carry metabolic waste out of the muscles and organs, reducing blood pressure, and improving circulation.

To give a massage that stimulates the circulation of the blood, squeeze a small amount of massage oil into your palm and rub your hands together to warm it up. Firmly stroke the foot downwards from the toes to the ankles, up to the lower leg, and massage the calf muscles before returning your hands to the toes and starting again. Repeat this on both feet every day, or when you’re feeling any symptoms of poor circulation.

3. Helps You Relax

Stress is a big problem for many people. Unresolved, constant stress can lead to issues like anxiety, depression, heart problems, digestive issues, muscle pain, and a weakened immune system. Chronic stress can also cause weight gain, migraines and skin conditions like pimples, rashes, acne and psoriasis. It can cause you to age at an accelerated rate and can bring on memory loss, trouble concentrating, insomnia and sexual dysfunction.

There are many ways in which we can combat stress. Getting adequate amounts of exercise, activities like yoga and meditation, deep breathing, healthy diet and enough sleep are just a few ways to fight stress. Learning proper relaxation techniques can work wonders on your overall well-being, and it can also slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, improve mood, reduce fatigue, and improve muscle tension and chronic pain.

Giving yourself a foot massage or reflexology treatment is a quick and easy way to relax. Reflexology on the feet can also subtly affect the entire body, including the organs and glands. Your feet are a carefully structured network of joints, bones, muscle, ligaments, and each foot contains more than 7000 nerve endings, each one constantly sending messages to the rest of the body. Focusing on your feet is the fastest way to relax.

To give your feet a reflexology treatment, first, try varying techniques on each foot to see what feels good. Press, squeeze, knead, or even lightly slap the bottom of your feet. This action is purely for enjoyment; whatever you do, it should begin to relax you. Next, press your thumb into the solar plexus on each foot for 10 seconds, then “caterpillar” your thumb up from the heel to the base of your foot by inching it along, pressing firmly in as you go. Go back to those relaxation techniques, before applying pressure to each solar plexus once more. End the massage with “feather strokes” by lightly running the fingertips up and down the tops, bottoms and sides of each foot. Repeat this several times, breathing in deeply as you go.

4. Fights Depression

It’s normal for everyone to feel a bit blue from time to time, but when it occurs with intensity and for long periods of time, it might be something more serious. Depression can be experienced by anyone, of any age and for no reason at all. It’s more than just a bad mood, it is a serious condition that can become extremely detrimental to physical and mental health if it’s not treated.

Symptoms of depression can vary from person to person, but they include withdrawing from social circles and friendships, becoming reclusive, failing to concentrate at school or work, relying on alcohol or other sedatives, and feeling overwhelmed, guilty, irritable, sad, frustrated, or even numb. Depression can have physical symptoms too, such as exhaustion, fatigue, headaches, sleep problems, loss of appetite and digestive upset.

There are many different ways to treat depression, and each treatment affects each individual differently. Psychological help is effective, and can take the form of therapy sessions with a counselor. During these sessions, patients learn effective ways to deal with their depression through things like cognitive behavior therapy, interpersonal therapy, behavior therapy and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Medical treatments, such as antidepressants, are also available.

Reflexology can be another effective way to treat depression. There are acupuncture pressure points on the feet that can help with depressive symptoms, and they can be found in the webbing between the big toe and the second toe and on the side of the foot, near the big toe. Putting pressure on these two points is said to stimulate and energize the body, balance circulation, clear the mind and relieve worries and anxiety.

5. Relieves Aches and Pains

Aches and pains are a common part of life, and happen to everyone. They can occur anywhere in the body due to things like age, injury or sickness, and severity of the pain can vary too. It’s important to pay attention to any aches and pains you might be feeling, as they can often be symptoms of other health problems.

Different massage techniques can relieve pain and aches in the body. If your muscles are sore from over-exerting them through exercise, a deep-tissue massage will target the deeper layers of muscles and can help you relax, which releases serotonin and enhances pain relief. For more mild pain, a Swedish massage uses a less intense technique that involves gentle strokes and circular motions. Trigger-point massage focuses on one specific area where the pain is felt, and can be very effective at providing relief.

No matter where you’re feeling pain, foot reflexology can also provide some relief. In reflexology, each part of the body has a corresponding area on the foot. So if you’re suffering from backaches, apply gentle pressure along the spinal reflex (the inner arch that runs along the bottom of your foot), and massage up and down with your thumb using small, circular motions.

The head and neck are represented by all of the toes. So for neck pain or headaches, massage the toes and the joints firmly for at least five minutes, or until relief begins to be felt. Lower back pain can be treated by applying pressure firmly between the Achilles tendon and the outer ankle bone. However, it’s important to work gently when using reflexology or massage for pain relief, as too much pressure can worsen the pain.

6. Makes Feet Healthier

The state of your feet can reflect your inner health, and as such it’s important to ensure they are well-maintained and cared for. We tend to take our feet for granted, and we often don’t realize how important they are until they’re not working to their best ability. Many things can cause aches and pains in the feet, and even simple actions like walking put enormous amount of pressure on them.

Feet can have minor problems like athlete’s foot, corns, calluses and ingrown toenails, and can be caused by things like improper footwear or repetitive movement. The feet can also act as an indicator of other health problems, like gout, which is a type of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the blood. This excess fluid settles in the joints of the feet, where it swells up and causes pain. Extremely dry skin that isn’t improving can sometimes be a sign of thyroid problems, ulcers that aren’t healing up properly can be a symptom of diabetes, and toes that are slightly purple or discolored can be a sign of poor circulation.

You can keep your feet healthy by washing them daily with soap and water, avoiding walking barefoot too often, wearing proper-fitting shoes and socks, and cutting your toenails correctly to avoid ingrown toenails. Regularly massaging the feet is another way to keep them healthy, as this can help stimulate foot muscles, reduce stiffness and alleviate pain in the heels and ankles. Stretching the feet can also ensure they stay strong and flexible, which makes daily activities much easier.

To give an all-over foot massage, rub warm olive or coconut oil together in the palms of your hands before starting at the pressure points on the soles of your feet. Apply as much pressure as you enjoy, then focus that pressure all over the foot. Massage the toes as well by gently pulling and squeezing them. Alternatively, you can use a foot roller on the top and bottom of your feet for a quick, effective massage.

7. Alleviates Edema

Edema is the medical term for swelling and it can occur anywhere in the body, though it is most commonly experienced in the legs, feet, arms and hands. Edema is essentially caused by an accumulation of excess fluid in the tissues, and there are many different reasons for it. It can be caused by physical inactivity, standing for too long, surgery, heat, burns, pregnancy, excessive intake of salt, malnutrition, or more serious conditions like kidney damage, heart failure, lung disease, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, and more.

Symptoms of edema can differ depending on the cause of it, but usually, you will experience swelling of the skin, which may appear shiny and stretched, puffiness, aches, stiffness, weight gain or weight loss, faster pulse rate, higher blood pressure and abdominal distention. Edema can be treated in various ways, many of which can be done from home. These include physical activity and movement, elevating the affected limbs, compression gloves or socks, changing your diet, reducing salt intake and avoiding alcohol and smoking.

Other treatments include medications like diuretics and oxygen therapy, but the cause of edema must be properly treated to give the best chance of recovery. If edema goes untreated, it can cause increasingly painful swelling, difficulties walking, infected skin at the site of the swelling, and even scarring between the layers of skin tissue.

Regular massaging can help reduce the effects of edema as well, as this can help shift the fluid that has accumulated in the limbs back towards the kidneys, where it can then be flushed out of the body. Start massaging from the toes up to the ankles, using long, slow, firm but gentle strokes. The best results will come if you do this daily, but also remember to drink lots of water and rest as much as necessary.

8. Eases PMS and Menopause Symptoms

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is the emotional and behavioral changes that occur in a woman before the onset of a menstrual period. These changes include anxiety, depression, crying spells, mood swings, anger, food cravings and social withdrawal. Accompanying these emotional changes are physical symptoms too, such as joint pain, cramping, breast soreness, bloating, pimples, constipation, diarrhea and fatigue.

Menopause marks the end of a woman’s menstrual periods and the end of her reproductive years. It can be a time of great change and emotion for many women, and generally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. Symptoms of menopause can include hot flushes, night sweats, aches, pains, itching skin, headaches, irritability, reduced sex drive, fatigue and frequent urination. Treating the symptoms of PMS and menopause can be difficult depending on the severity, but relief can be found through painkillers, application of heat-packs, gentle exercise, a cold compress, and lots of rest.

Daily massage can also ease symptoms of PMS and menopause. Not only can it reduce pain, tension and bloating, it can lift the mood, induce sleep and relax the rest of the body. Reflexology can also provide relief by focusing on the acupressure points in the abdomen and feet. One of the most effective pressure points for the treatment of these symptoms is called the Sea of Energy, located just below the navel. Applying pressure to this point can help relieve menstrual cramps, constipation, bloating and irregular periods.

Another effective acupressure point is located on the feet, inside the foot on the inner arch and just below the ball of the foot. Pressing this point with the fingers can relieve painful abdominal cramps, ease anxiety and stress, and reduce bloating. Use warm massage oil to provide even more relief, and apply steady, firm pressure before massaging the entire foot.

9. Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a neurological movement disorder that is generally characterized by the urge to move and shake the legs, and it typically happens at night. It can also affect the arms, and while the cause is still relatively unknown, it’s believed that it’s due to a malfunctioning of the nervous system. RLS is an unusual condition, and can be difficult to treat because the more you try to relax, the worse symptoms can become. It’s often described as an overwhelming, uncomfortable, creeping sensation of the limbs, and it can cause fatigue and exhaustion during the day.

RLS can be experienced by both men and women, though it’s almost twice as common in women. Relief can be found by moving the legs, but this can keep the sufferer awake even longer, making fatigue and exhaustion worse. RLS can be caused by iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure, diabetes, antidepressants, and pregnancy. It can be triggered by things like long car trips, flights, alcohol use, and sleep deprivation.

RLS can be treated in various ways. Home remedies include heat packs, cold compresses, daily exercise, meditation, tai chi and yoga. Some dietary supplements like iron, folic acid, magnesium and vitamin B may ease symptoms, but it’s best to go to a doctor to ensure you’re prescribed the correct dosage of vitamins. You can also try to avoid stimulants like caffeine, tobacco and soft drinks to see if this provides relief.

Massage can also relieve RLS as it improves circulation, relaxes the nerves and lowers blood pressure. Begin at the heel and ankles and massage in circular motions, using the fleshy base of the hands to apply gentle, firm pressure. Work your way down the foot to the toes and back up, continuing up to the lower calf muscles and hamstrings. You can also use a foam roller to get deep into the skin tissue and provided even further relief.

10. Lowers Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the strength and pressure of the blood as it flows through the arteries and around the body. This pressure changes constantly depending on your current state, and can be affected by things like exercise, breathing, and emotions. Persistent high blood pressure is also known as hypertension, and can lead to serious health conditions like heart failure, heart disease, or kidney disease.

When measuring blood pressure, two numbers are noted. The larger number is called the systolic blood pressure, and relates to the pressure in the arteries as the heart beats. The lower number is the diastolic pressure, and indicates the pressure of the blood as the heart relaxes between beats. High blood pressure generally has no warning signs, and the only way to find out if it’s high is to have it checked regularly.

Various things can cause someone to be more susceptible to hypertension, such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, excessive alcohol and high cholesterol levels. To lower your blood pressure, it’s best to make several lifestyle changes. Remaining active and at a healthy weight, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol and salt intake and eating nutritious foods are just a few things that can be done to minimize the risk of high blood pressure.

Regular foot massages and reflexology treatments can also reduce blood pressure. Massage can reduce stress, improve circulation and relieve swelling and pain, which can in turn lower blood pressure. Using the thumb, apply pressure to the solar plexus on the base of the feet and breathe deeply in and out. Do this a few times, before massaging the rest of the foot, ensuring you continue to breathe deeply.