There are so many benefits of reflexology & foot massage, some of the benefits include: releasing endorphins, lowering heart rate, lowering blood pressure, improving balance, and assisting with mental health problems. Read Part 1 Here.
10) Reflexology & Foot Massage Helps Maintain Balance
Balance is something most people don’t think about until it is a skill they don’t possess. A lack of balance affects people’s ability to move – to stand, to walk, to participate in life.
There are two components to balance – the inner ear and the mechanical parts of balance (23). Foot massage can assist with the mechanical aspects – a study of those whose balance had been affected by diabetes found that foot massage significantly increased their balance (35).
A lack of balance also often affects the elderly, and those with conditions such as osteoarthritis. Given that massage also has a positive effect on the pain associated with arthritis (36), massage acts a multi-benefit therapy, giving people both control over their mobility, and relieving their pain.
Balance contributes much to our ability to move and participate in society. Foot massage helps address the mechanical aspects of balance, especially in people who have conditions that affects their balance, such as arthritis and diabetes.
11) Reflexology & Foot Massage Benefits The Skin Of Our Feet
With increased circulation, foot massage also brings about benefits to the skin on your feet. This may not seem as important as the skin on your face, but feet – like your hands – are the parts of our body that we put under the most pressure. We force them into uncomfortable shoes, walk barefoot, put pressure on our soles for hours.
A study on Thai foot massage found that the act of massage increased both temperature and blood flow to the connective tissue below the skin (37) Foot massage provides many other benefits to the tissue – such as increased blood flow and increased lymphatic drainage..
Foot massage can also assist with people who suffer from swelling of the feet – a study found significant decrease in swelling in the leg following three months of foot massage (38). This can generally be attributed to increased lymphatic drainage and increased blood flow. As mentioned before, these two aspects working together control the water balance in our body. Swelling in the feet, known medically as oedema, results from an imbalance in water drainage.
Foot massage can also decrease the appearance of scarring – one study found that in Korean burns victims, skin pliability, circulation and appearance improved following three months of massage. (39)
Looking after the skin on our feet is often one of our last priorities – however, given how much we rely on our feet and how much we put them through, it should be out first. Foot massage assists with circulation, lymphatic drainage, swelling of the feet, and scar appearance, allowing us to better look after our skin.
12) Reflexology & Foot Massage Helps To Manage Anxiety
Given that we have already investigated how foot massage decreases stress, increases endorphins, provides a sense of closeness and assists with pain management, it should come as no surprise that foot massage also helps relieve feeling of anxiety.
Anxiety is one of those things that many people experience throughout their lifetime. In childhood, adolescence, and as people age, there are many things to feel anxious about, and most of the time it’s a natural response to circumstances (40). Anxiety disorders occur when that anxiety is persistent, and occurs in circumstances where such a reaction is not warranted (41).
Foot massage is not something that will cure anxiety. People should always go and see their health providers. However, given that science does still not have the full picture regarding anxiety, the use of foot massage to relieve both normal and chronic anxiety has much to recommend it.
A Swedish study looking at the effect of massage therapy on women with anxiety found no marked increase in anxiety across the time of the study, but also found significant decreases in many of the markers of anxiety – heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and respiratory rate (42). The Japanese study that we looked at earlier also measured anxiety levels while performing foot massage and found a significant decrease in anxiety levels (31).
1 in 5 people will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime, with two of the most common problems being anxiety and depression. Foot massage gives us an alternate therapy that can work alongside medicine and talk therapy to address the multiple causes for mental illness.
13) Reflexology & Foot Massage Helps Manage Depression
Depression and anxiety often occur hand in hand – most people who experience a mental illness are also at high risk of experiencing another one (43). Depression, like anxiety, is only partially understood by medicine – we know that it has to do with serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, but often the medications used to address this take 6 weeks to work, while the side effects of the medications start immediately(44).
There is clearly social, physical, cultural, and psychological aspects to depression. Given we have seen that foot massage can influence us physically and psychosocially, it should come as no surprise that here again, foot massage can be useful.
In a study of women suffering from postpartum depression, researchers found that massage significantly decreased reports of depression (45). Another study of middle aged women experiencing depression found similar results (46).
If we were to look at the effect that foot massage has on both anxiety and depression and also look at the underlying ways that foot massage has its effect (social bonding, decrease in stress, increase in endorphins), it seems fairly logical that while not a cure, foot massage is a useful tool for people who experience anxiety and depression to add to their tool box.
Depression, like anxiety, is a disease that is multifaceted and complicated. With foot massage addressing both biological and social triggers for depression, it presents a useful tool to help in the management of the condition.
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14) Reflexology & Foot Massage Can Assist With Muscle Soreness
Muscle soreness is generally the thing that people think about first when it comes to massage. As previously mentioned, we humans put our feet through quite a bit of abuse – walking all day in inappropriate shoes, not paying attention to how long we spend on our feet– it is easy to see how muscle soreness develops in the feet.
Massage, by definition, is the process of pressing at muscle and connective tissue to relieve tension (47). While some forms of foot massage, such as reflexology, look to influence other parts of the body through dispelling tension in the feet, the fact of the matter is that massage aims to use touch to improve the patient’s quality of life through manipulation of tissue(48).
People experience many different types of muscle soreness – the muscle soreness after exercise, the muscle soreness that comes from straining something, and the muscle soreness that comes from tension. Massage helps all of these, providing an easy tool for people to use to relieve tension, heal exercise soreness and decrease injury pain (49, 50, 51).
A study of people exhibiting day after muscle soreness looked at the effectiveness of massage in relieving their pain. This particular study looked at body builders, and found that massage significantly decreased post exercise pain (49). Other studies that focused on marathon runners found similar results (50).
Muscle soreness inhibits people’s efforts both in their everyday lives, and their sporting endeavours. By decreasing the amount of pain that results from using our muscles, foot massage allows for rapid recovery.
15) Reflexology & Foot Massage Can Help Decrease Joint Pain
Along with muscle soreness, joint pain is one of the main complaints for people that use foot massage as a tool of their daily life. Joint pain can occur for many reasons – from arthritis, to general stiffness, to post injury pain. It is something that affects large populations of people (36).
Foot massage focuses on areas of tension. By relaxing the muscles around the joints, and massaging the connective tissue that holds these joints in place, foot massage can provide relief. A study of patients experiencing joint pain from osteoarthritis found significant decrease in pain following consistent foot massage with lavender oil and almond oil (36).
Given that joint pain can be further exacerbated by muscles stiffness, the ability of massage to loosen tension in stiff muscles (51), is of particular interest. By loosening the stiffness in the surrounding tissue, the tension is taken off of the joints and decreases some of the pain felt due to the inflammation of the tissues in the joints (36).
Joint pain hinders the efforts of people to live normal lives. Joint pain in the feet, especially, can have a significant effect as it makes walking and getting around difficult. Foot massage provides a way to decrease that pain, and thus improve the quality of life of those experiencing it.
16) Reflexology & Foot Massage Helps Manage Insomnia
Insomnia is a complicated beast. Like many issues to do with the brain, it is often multifactorial, having more than one root cause. Some of the causes include different drugs (like caffeine, nicotine, the medication you take for asthma), shift work, stress, depression, and pain. Sometimes we just don’t know the cause behind insomnia.
However, looking at the causes behind insomnia, we can already see how foot massage addresses many of these. If foot massage decreases your levels of stress, you’re more likely to sleep. If it assists with depression, you’re more likely to sleep. If foot massage helps with your pain, including joint and muscle pain, you’re more likely to sleep.
Evidence for this can be found in several studies where insomnia was shown to decrease in incidence and severity when foot massage was provided to women suffering from post-natal depression (45). By providing a sense of calm, by assisting with depression, stress and pain, foot massage provides a viable therapy in assisting oneself to get asleep.
Foot massage addresses many of the causes of insomnia, helping to prevent the problem of not being able to sleep in the first place. It also presents an immediate sense of calm and being cared for – both things which prompt sleep.
17) Reflexology & Foot Massage Helps Decrease The Severity & Length Of Headaches & Migraines
Headaches and migraines occur for many reasons – stress, tiredness, infections, illness (53). Sometimes we have no idea what the cause or trigger is. Thus, therapy is often based on what has worked before for that individual. A lack of light, less sound, certain types of painkillers. Often though people have to work through migraines, using medications that sometimes work, sometimes don’t.
Here foot massage can be of assistance, not necessarily by replacing other therapies, but by working alongside them. We’ve already looked at how foot massage addresses some of the above causes – stress and insomnia. By treating these causes, foot massage is helping to prevent episodes from occurring in the first place.
However, other research has also found that foot massages can decrease the severity and length of headaches and migraines (54). This is of particular importance – both because it provides relief to the sufferer, but also because it enables other methods – such as darkness, and rest, and rehydration – a better chance of working.
Headaches and migraines can be debilitating and extremely difficult to control. While foot massage does not provide the cure for these afflictions it does help in two ways. Firstly, it helps manage some of the causes of migraines and headaches. And secondly, it’s been shown to decrease the severity and length of these migraines and headaches, giving other coping methods a chance to work.
18) Reflexology & Foot Massage Helps With Injury Rehabilitation
Injuries can be debilitating, not only in the immediate, but also in their aftermath. Rehabilitation, building up strength, learning to use muscles and tendons again – it’s not an easy path.
Foot massage helps here by allowing a person to go through with all that they need to do to get back on the road to recovery. As we’ve already seen, foot massage helps address many things that makes rehabilitation difficult – pain, stress, muscle soreness, joint stiffness, fatigue (36, 51). It also assists in areas of depression and anxiety, things that also often afflict those who are working through injuries.
Foot massage also helps specifically when leg and foot injuries are involved. It addresses not only concurrent stresses and causes of pain, but allows the person to directly target pain in their feet, of the muscles in their legs (which are often connected to the bones of the feet) (36). In this way, foot massage allows a person both the chance to attend rehabilitation activities and strive towards the rehabilitation of their injury, but it also allows the individual to address immediate problems when it comes to their feet and legs.
Injuries are never pleasant, and their recovery period can often stretch into the weeks and months. Foot massage offers a way of assisting with that recovery, both by addressing things that make recovery difficult, but also by addressing immediate problems of tension in the feet and legs.
Many of the studies and papers examined in this article have looked at more than one type of foot massage – Thai foot massage, Swedish foot massage, reflexology. There appears to be no singular type of foot massage that works better than the others, and all seem to have positive benefits.
Even in studies where there was no empirical evidence that could be measured (and in many cases there were biochemical changes that resulted from the foot massage), researchers acknowledged that foot massage had a positive outcome on the people who used it, and that as a alternative medicine, it has a great many applications alongside traditional medicine.
So with all the benefits to gain, and nothing to lose, why not have a go today? Given that there seems to be no particular type of massage that is any better than any other, there are many paths to choose from. You could go to a professional masseuse, get a partner to have a go, or just do it yourself. Whatever option you choose, you stand to benefit from it.