‘Tis the season of tired feet! With holiday and end of year crunch time in full swing, it’s useful know there is a quick and easy path to relief in minutes. Few things feel better than a foot massage that warms tissues, increases circulation, and carries off metabolic waste. In fact, ancient practices and a growing body of medical research even suggest that massaging specific pressure points on your feet can heal conditions affecting entirely different parts of your body.
The belief that putting pressure on certain areas of your feet can heal ailments elsewhere is called reflexology. It stems from traditional Chinese medicine. “The idea is that energy, called ‘chi,’ flows through the body along particular pathways, or meridians,” says Denis Merkas, an acupuncturist and massage therapist who co-founded Melt: Massage for Couples with his wife, Emma. “When there’s a problem in the body, we’re usually talking about blockages of chi.”
Does science back it up?
The science behind reflexology remains unclear, but a great deal of research shows that it is effective at soothing and managing pain. In 2014, an audit of British physiotherapists found that reflexology was effective at reducing pain and inducing relaxation in people with chronic pain. Studies also show that foot massage can help reduce pain after breast surgery. Further studies show that reflexology can reduce anxiety in people about to undergo medical testing or hospitalization.
Foot massage for anxiety
Here are Merkas’s instructions for a foot massage that can lower anxiety.
Curl your toes. You should see a small depression just below the ball of your foot.
Place the pad of your thumb on this depression.
Hold on to the top of your foot with your other hand.
Massage the area in small circles.
Alternate this with holding the area firmly and pressing down.
One study showed that people with low back pain saw better results with reflexology than with massage of the lower back itself.
If you want to treat your back to some reflexology, focus the massage on the arches of your feet and follow these steps:
Concentrate on the pressure points in your arches. Merkas suggests using a few drops of oil or lotion for lubrication.
Moving from the heel to the toes, alternate moving your thumbs in a series of short strokes.
“You can also use your thumbs to press in and ‘cat walk’ along the arch, like a cat making its bed,” says Merkas.