Even a brief foot massage can ease stress and perk you up. That’s a good thing because cutting stress and boosting energy raises the odds you’ll make healthy choices like exercising and eating right.
But how does massage do all that? It activates your nervous system, which increases feel-good brain chemicals like endorphins. In one study, people who got foot massage after surgery to remove their appendix had less pain and used fewer painkillers.
That’s not all, though. Foot massage boosts your circulation, which helps with healing and keeps your muscles and tissues healthy. That’s especially important if you have health problems that add to poor circulation or nerve damage, like diabetes.
How to Give Yourself a Foot Massage
A professional massage isn’t cheap. Luckily, you can get the same benefits at home — for free — by doing it yourself or asking your partner to lend a hand. The spots most likely to get sore are easy to reach.
Moderate pressure massage is safe and works well for most people with conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, and long-term pain. You can also consider getting your first massage from a professional massage therapist. Look for one who has a certification from Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals or the American Massage Therapy Association. If you had surgery on your feet, talk to your doctor or podiatrist first to see if foot massage is a good idea for you.
Here’s how to give your tensest spots some TLC:
Step 1. Sit in a chair or on a bed, and put one of your feet on top of your opposite thigh. If you’d like, use a dollop of lotion or oil (like coconut or argan) to help your fingers move smoothly across your skin.
Step 2. Hold the front of your ankle with one hand. Then pinch the back of your ankle with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand and pull down toward your heel. This relaxes your Achilles tendon, which can get especially tight from exercise, standing for long periods of time, and wearing high heels.
Step 3. Use your thumb to make small circles from the bottom of your heel up to the base of each of your toes. You can also knead the bottom of your foot by pressing your knuckles into it. Or hold your foot with both hands and press your thumbs directly into the bottom of your foot, working from the heel up to just beneath your toes.
Step 4. Finish by rotating each toe lightly. When you’re all done, switch feet.
If it hurts, use less pressure. If you feel sharp pain, stop right away.
You can also use a drugstore massage device. Or try a foot roller. To use one, stand and hold onto a stable surface with one hand as you roll your foot over the device at a pressure that feels comfortable for you.
Marilyn Irene Kier, massage therapist; spokeswoman, American Massage Therapy Association.
Andrew Bang, DC, chiropractor, Center for Integrative Medicine, Cleveland Clinic.
Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director, Touch Research Institute, University of Miami.
Harvard Medical School: “Foot massage: The pause that refreshes and is good for you!”
Journal of the Korean Academy of Nursing: “Effects of self-foot reflexology on stress, fatigue, skin temperature and immune response in female undergraduate students.”
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: “Evaluation of the Effect of Reflexology on Pain Control and Analgesic Consumption After Appendectomy.”