Sleep Better & Improve Your Balance With This Foot Massage (Yes, Really)

mbg Beauty and Lifestyle Senior Editor By Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty and Lifestyle Senior Editor

Alexandra Engler is the senior beauty and lifestyle editor who has worked for many of the leading lifestyle publications for the last seven years.

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On the list of indulgences, foot massages are right up there near the top. But who among us regularly treats themselves to a foot massage, save for the occasional pedicure or those of us with very kind partners? Well, let us be your excuse: You deserve foot massages for a plethora of self-care reasons—and a few scientific ones, too.

What are the health benefits of foot massage?

There's a pretty significant volume of research dedicated to foot massage and more general massage therapy, which helps inform the benefits of foot massage. Here, some of the more impressive and research-backed benefits

Stress and anxiety reduction: This is one of the most oft-cited benefits of foot massage. For good reason: Not only has massage therapy been shown to reduce cortisol levels (the stress chemicals) by an average of 31 percent for study participants, but it has been shown to increase serotonin and dopamine. Another study showed participants' anxiety levels decreased after the men and women self-administered foot massages three times a week over a four-week period. Anecdotally, this makes sense: Think about your own behavior post-pedicure—don't you feel more relaxed?

Improved sleep: One study concluded that a foot massage before bed provided patients with a more sound sleep quality—also of note, the sleep hygiene was further improved with a foot soak along with a massage. So if you can swing both at night, it might be worth it for a more rested morning. Another even suggested that even when a foot massage was administered for 10 minutes once a week in the morning, the participants had better sleep quality overall.

General pain relief: A few studies have been done to show that regular foot (or even hand) massages help people who are suffering from chronic pain or illness. In one, they administered the massages to post-op patients. In another, the study showed that even a five-minute massage helped patients in critical care. Another suggested that the pain relief was the result of an endorphin boost post-massage.

Better balance: For those practicing yoga, strengthening the core is the common advice to a more stable footing. However, regular foot massages can be another trick to help improve balance, according to one study. In it, patients did 30 minutes of massage three times a week, at which point they started seeing improvement in stability. 

It should be noted, too, that foot massages are considered a complementary practice, meaning, it should be used in conjunction with other routines to reach its peak potential. Meaning if you want to reduce stress, foot massages can be one part of your stress management routine but should not be the sole method.

The best techniques for at-home.

According to Jin Soon Choi, manicurist and founder of JinSoon and JinSoon Natural Hand + Foot Massage, giving yourself (or your partner) an at-home version is pretty simple and has immediate payoff. "You'll instantly feel better," she says. "When I do this to women, you can tell they relax right away."

Start by getting a feel for your foot, with dry bare hands. Using both hands, grip and rub the fleshy parts of the foot until you get the pressure right. (She recommends staying away from bone—if you're not trained you might cause harm.)

Once your hands and foot are warmed up, you can add oil. (Try mixing a sweet almond oil with a few drops of peppermint essential oil for an energizing blend; or use lavender essential oil for a nighttime ritual, she says.) Start by rubbing a moderate amount in your hands and then add in more as needed.

With your thumbs at the inside of your heel, move upward toward the ball with generous pressure until you reach the pad—and repeat this as desired. Grip the arch with your fingertips and thumb and rub in circular motions, before moving to the skin between the toes pulling and massaging gently. For the heel, ball, and ankle, carefully use the palm of one hand and twist, almost like juicing an orange. You can end the massage when the oils are sufficiently rubbed in.

If you want something more specific, you can try elements of reflexology or using pressure points on the hands and feet to improve mood or rejuvenate other parts of the body. "There are certain pressure points on the foot that can help with your mood," says Shel Pink, author of Slow Beauty and founder of SpaRitual. "Once you press and massage them, you can feel relief immediately."

There are two main pressure points to hit, says Pink. The main one is at the heel, which can help with anxiety. "Simply press the middle of your heel and massage around in small circular motions." You can work on the balls of your foot, she says, with your two thumbs to bring "deep levels of relaxation."

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What tools actually work?

If you are interested in regular foot massages, you've likely seen a plethora of tools you can incorporate into your routine. Here, the top two tools types—with studies to back them up.

Foot rollers: These are akin to foam rollers for the rest of your body, that are often used in massage therapy, for workouts, and with physical therapy patients. (Read our 101 here.) There is also a lot of research showing that foam rollers are very beneficial for the muscles, which your feet contain plenty of. The versions for the foot offer similar benefits—increased circulation, working the fascia, lymphatic drainage. Most have a ribbed surface that you simply place on the floor and roll back and forth under your foot, applying as much pressure as desired.

Small balls: These can come in many forms from simple tennis balls to wooden options. One study found that using a tennis ball under the foot for self-myofascial-release improved hamstring and lumbar spine flexibility—making this ideal for athletes.

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