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The feet work hard every day. They not only help in locomotion but also bear the weight of the body. Unfortunately, foot care is often ignored. It is important to keep your feet clean and relaxed.
Massaging your feet for a few minutes every day helps relax the foot muscles, makes them strong, increases flexibility, relieves tension, and improves circulation.
Reflexology is one way of taking care of your feet. It involves targeted pressure massage that aids in restoring energy flow.
Reflexology (1) is the practice of stimulating points on the feet (and also the hands and ears) to positively affect the function of different parts of the body, such as glands and organs.
It differs from massage of the feet in that the purpose of foot massage is to manually manipulate the soft tissues of the feet to enhance ease of movement and stimulate fluid and energy flow to the area.
The practice of reflexology involves the stimulation of points on the feet (as well as the hands and ears) that “reflect” to corresponding areas in order to bring about a positive result.
Benefits of Foot Massage and Reflexology
Foot massage and reflexology offer various benefits to your health.
1. Improve blood circulation
Loosening techniques are the primary foundation of increasing circulation in the feet. Foot and ankle loosening increases blood flow and facilitates the overall effectiveness of the subsequent treatment, be it massage or reflexology.
The tissues of the foot and the ankle joint are manually worked back and forth as well as side to side in a manner that allows the therapist to assess existing mobility.
2. Promote sleep
Research has shown that sleep and circadian rhythm are improved by regular massage. (2) If your goal of massage is better sleep, indicate this to your massage therapist. The techniques available include Swedish and myofascial massage.
You can also try various energetic approaches such as deep tissue and therapeutic massage for relief from discomfort or pain, as long as such techniques do not create more discomfort.
3. Relieve backaches
Due to the interconnectivity of the tissues of the body, foot massage may help alleviate some aspects of back pain. (3) However, that same interconnectivity may also mean that other areas must be addressed, such as the calves and hamstrings.
In reflexology, back pain is addressed by working the inside part of the foot, from the heel all the way up to the side of the big toe.
4. Relax the body
The most relaxing foot massage techniques are Swedish (4) and Ayurvedic foot massage. Swedish massage utilizes a variety of gentle strokes — such as long strokes and circular motions — to create a sense of calm.
The speed and pressure at which these strokes are implemented are key to creating tranquility. In Ayurvedic massage, warmed oil is combined with gentle strokes to balance the doshas — Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
5. Help fight depression
In reflexology, stimulating certain pressure points may help alleviate symptoms of depression.
The points that reflect to the central nervous system — the tips of the first three toes and the inside part of the foot — stimulate the parasympathetic portion of the nervous system so that deep healing can take place.
The points that reflect to the endocrine system — the pads of the big toes — balance hormone levels involved with emotions. The points that reflect to the diaphragm — the area just under the balls of the feet — make each breath more effective at properly delivery of oxygen to the tissues of the body.
This results in a slower and more productive breathing pattern and helps relax other muscles involved with inspiration and expiration.
6. May help alleviate edema
Edema is defined as the retention of fluids within the tissues of the body. Reflexology is contraindicated for edema anywhere in the body because it can induce fluid movement that can be too much for an obviously compromised lymphatic system to handle.
However, massage may help with edema if the practitioner is qualified in the practice of lymphatic drainage, which enables removal of waste from the lymphatic system by stimulating movement. (5)
7. Help lower blood pressure
Reflexology may help lower blood pressure when the area for the kidneys is stimulated. This area is in the center of the foot. Kidneys are vital for filtering waste products from the blood, and this process has a direct effect on blood pressure.
However, other factors play a role in high blood pressure that are not necessarily aided by improved kidney function, so it is recommended that the patient have good communication with her (or his) healthcare provider.
The potential benefits of massage and reflexology also include:
- Reduced stress and anxiety (6)
- Improved immune system function
- Enhanced hormone maintenance (endocrine system function)
- Improved fertility
- Better digestion
- Relief from arthritic conditions (3)
- Improved mobility in areas of the feet where they may be scar tissue
- Reduced muscle spasms (along with adequate fluid intake)
Since everything in the feet affects everything above the feet, relieving foot pain, improving the mobility of scar tissue, and improving circulation can all have positive effects on knee and hip pain.
These effects also help improve posture. Improved posture can lead to relief of pain in the upper extremities, head, and neck.
Points to Remember When Doing Foot Massage or Reflexology
The most important point to remember when considering a foot massage or reflexology is an awareness of any health issues that may be contraindicated.
- The patient should have very strong communication with their healthcare provider about what alternative modalities would be beneficial for their condition.
- Caution should be used with older adults, and there should be an awareness of what medications they are taking.
- The techniques should be performed with light pressure to avoid overstimulation of the corresponding body systems.
- Reflexology is contraindicated for edema, broken bones, advanced diabetes, neuropathy, deep vein thrombosis, infection, athlete’s foot, and warts.
Massage and reflexology are easy practices that one can follow to maintain good health of their feet and, ultimately, the whole body. It helps improve circulation, increases strength, and relieves pain.
However, people with medical conditions, foot injuries, or problems should consult their doctor before undergoing reflexology therapy.