Foot massages are often seen as a luxury rather than a necessity. But there’s way more to the practice than sheer relaxation and pampering. Foot massages have a host of benefits to your overall health, making them less of a splurge-worthy extra and more of an overlooked healthy habit. Needless to say, they shouldn’t just be reserved for vacation massage tables and pedicure add-ons.
The general practice of massage is proven to ease pain and soothe tension within the body, no matter if the focus is on your back, neck, feet, or elsewhere. But some studies have found that the benefits of foot massage can extend even further than that, helping to alleviate stress, lowering blood pressure, and even soothing headaches.
Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to be living in the lap of luxury to experience the benefits of a foot massage. Even taking a few minutes each week to massage your own feet—or investing in an electronic foot massager to do the job for you—can provide a whole host of top-notch health benefits.
It’s time to reframe the conversation around foot massage, making it more accessible to everyone who could benefit from the practice—which is truly everyone. Read on to learn the seven main benefits of foot massage and to get educated on how to give yourself an effective foot rub at home.
1. Foot massage can improve circulation.
You may be wondering, “Does a foot massage really increase circulation?” Well, according to the experts at Harvard Medical School, it does. If you live a sedentary lifestyle (it’s OK, most of us do), the muscles in your feet probably get very little exercise. This—coupled with society’s overall affinity for tight, uncomfortable shoes—can lead to circulation problems in the feet. According to podiatrists and foot reflexology experts, even a 10 to 20-minute foot massage can help address circulation issues, which is especially important for those with diabetes, aging populations, pregnant people, and those with other health concerns impacting the feet.
2. Foot massage can ease foot pain.
Many types of massage can aid in easing pain—that’s why many seek out the soothing practice. But massage can be especially helpful if you are experiencing foot pain. A single foot is made up of 26 bones connected by many sensitive joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. That’s a lot of complexity in a small area—and a lot of chances for a variety of foot pain. The benefits of foot massage can help soothe these issues by relaxing tight and strained muscles and ligaments, promoting healing and improved functioning.
3. It can help you identify issues with your feet.
Taking time to massage your feet gives you some one-on-one time with a body part that usually isn’t the center of focus. By slowing down and concentrating on the practice, you may be able to identify foot problems before they become serious issues. Whether it’s an ingrown nail, a pesky bunion, or simply somewhere where there’s a lot of tension or pain, taking time to pay attention to your feet gives you greater awareness of their overall function and health. Plus, you’ll likely use a moisturizer or oil to help your hands glide over your feet, which helps prevent dry, cracked skin. It’s a win-win.
4. Foot massage could help treat issues associated with flat feet and plantar fasciitis.
If you have flat feet or plantar fasciitis, a type of chronic heel pain, foot massage is believed to help treat and improve some of these conditions. According to Healthline, massaging across the width of your foot arch, especially before standing, can help address pain associated with plantar fasciitis. For those with flat feet, experts recommend rolling your soles over something like a tennis ball or golfball for a light massage a couple of times a week. This helps stretch and strengthen tight tendons and muscles, improving overall flexibility and mobility. Pro tip: Even if you don’t have flat feet, that tennis ball trick is a good one to keep in your back pocket for DIY foot massaging.
5. It could help reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
You’ve probably heard of foot reflexology, a type of foot massage that associates different pressure points on the feet with treating certain conditions and ailments. The holistic practice may sound strange to some, but it does have proven benefits, with many practitioners using reflexology in concert with other treatments for these mental health concerns. One particular 2020 analysis of foot reflexology studies showed the benefits of foot massage “significantly improved” symptoms of depression and anxiety in the majority of patients.
Experts also say that general massage can help promote feelings of “caring, comfort, and connection,” all of which can help alleviate symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, even when done to oneself. General massage therapy has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, the so-called “stress chemical,” by an average of 31 percent for patients, helping with overall stress management. Additionally, massage has also been shown to increase serotonin and dopamine in most patients too. A 2016 study showed participants’ anxiety levels decreased after the participants self-administered foot massages three times a week over a four-week period.
6. Foot massage can help lower blood pressure and increase heart health.
Given that foot massage aids stress reduction and improves circulation, it only makes sense that it can help increase heart health by lowering blood pressure. A 2020 study found that foot reflexology was “effective in reducing heart rate in stage-2 hypertensive patients and was partially effective in reducing blood pressure.” The study, however, clarifies that reflexology should be performed as a complementary therapy to any other treatments.
“Relaxation is probably the biggest benefit [of foot reflexology],” Dr. Dustin Martinez, a Los Angeles-based chiropractic physician, told Healthline in 2021. “Reflexology helps by increasing blood flow through the body, which helps to…lower blood pressure.
7. Foot massage could help soothe headaches and migraines.
Pressure points on the feet could also help relieve and treat headaches and migraine, according to acupressure research. A type of traditional Chinese massage, acupressure associates stimulating certain points on the feet, like the webbing between the big and second toes, with relieving head pressure. Practitioners and recipients of this type of massage attest to its effectiveness, though more clinical research is likely needed on the benefits of this foot massage practice.
How to give yourself a foot massage
Now that you know all the benefits of foot massage, you may be itching to go try one for yourself. Sure, you can pay for a professional Chinese foot massage or a deep tissue massage—but the cost of foot massages may climb anywhere between $50 to $90. In lieu of dropping some serious dollars, it’s more economical to invest in an electric foot massager or to simply do it yourself. Save the pros for special occasions or particularly intense issues.
Here’s some at-home foot massage tips
When massaging your own feet, experts recommend you use generous pressure and circular motions for the fleshy parts of your feet and lighter pressure for the areas near bone to prevent any injury. For the heel and ball of your foot, experts recommend you use the palm of your hand in a twisting motion to massage, almost like juicing an orange. Remember to always use lotion or oils while massaging, which helps your hands glide along your skin and allows you to better knead into the area you’re working. And don’t be afraid to try out that tennis ball trick from earlier—it’s a good one.
Here’s how to choose the best deep tissue foot massagers on the market
If you aren’t the best at massages (and can’t find a buddy to con into giving you one), you can simply depend on technology to do the job for you. When choosing a deep tissue foot massager, it’s recommended to look for something that offers different levels of intensity and specialized functions, like soothing heat therapy. Some top-rated options include the Cloud Massage Shiatsu Foot Massager and the RENPHO Foot Massager. Plan to drop upwards of $100 on the best-of-the-best electric foot massagers—but you can also find top-rated manual foot massagers for way less.
Though foot massage has many proven benefits, experts say it’s important to not rely on massage alone as a cure-all to your health concerns, especially if you have heart health problems, mental health concerns, or intense foot pain. Use your judgment on when to see a doctor for complete evaluation and treatment. But know that the benefits of foot massage may be an additional way to address your health concerns—or just may help put you in touch with your body a little more. And, let’s be honest, we could all use an excuse for a little more relaxation.