Foot massage has been practiced in many cultures for centuries to promote well-being. Today, massage is a complementary practice used to relieve pain, reduce stress and anxiety, rehabilitate injuries and boost overall health.
The practice of foot reflexology massage involves applying pressure to specific points on the feet in order to affect various other parts of the body. Whether you make time for self-massage after a long day or head to a spa for a session with a certified reflexologist, it won't just be your feet that reap the benefits.
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What is Reflexology?
Similar to a standard back massage, reflexology is an application of pressure to specific parts of the feet or hands, and it's thought to alleviate stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. In theory, parts of your feet correspond to different parts or organs within the body. Depending on your symptoms, a reflexologist might pinpoint channels within the feet to help you relax, to ease headaches or to improve lymphatic drainage, among other benefits.
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While the true origin of reflexology is unknown, the form of massage has been widely practiced throughout history. A type of foot and hand therapy, reflexology was practiced as early as 2330 B.C. in China and Egypt, according to the International Institute of Reflexology.
The Benefits of Foot Massage for Stress
Among the potential foot massage benefits is a reduction of tension and stress. The pressure applied by the reflexologist can send a calming message from the nerves in your feet to your central nervous system, according to the University of Minnesota. In turn, the body adjusts tension levels and enhances overall relaxation.
While more research is needed to support the stress relief benefits of reflexology, a small February 2011 study published in the Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing found a link between foot massage and less tension. According to the study, a one-hour self-reflexology session three times a week for six weeks reduced stress and fatigue.
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Foot Massage to Manage Headaches
Reflexology has also been cited for helping manage or mitigate headaches and migraines, according to a September 2015 review published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. This effect may be linked to the overall reduction of stress with reflexology.
According to the University of Minnesota, the gate control theory (also known as the neuromatrix theory of pain) suggests that pain is a sensation experienced and created by the brain. The brain can create sensations of pain in response to emotional factors, like stress. So, when stress is eased through foot massage, it may have a relaxing impact on headaches or migraines as well.
Using Foot Massage for Circulation
The lymphatic system is responsible for removing built-up fluid and waste from the body and plays a role in the immune system. According to the University Health Network, manual lymph drainage, which can be done through foot massage, may help remove extra fluid from a swollen area of the body like the feet.
Stretching and releasing the skin around the ankle and foot or massaging swollen toes is an at-home method that can help move around the fluid in your body. Talk to a doctor or physical therapist about specific stretches and massage techniques to try.
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- Mayo Clinic: "What is reflexology?"
- International Institute of Reflexology: "The History of Reflexology"
- University of Minnesota: "How Does Reflexology Work?"
- Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing: "Effects of Self-Foot Reflexology on Stress, Fatigue, Skin Temperature and Immune Response in Female Undergraduate Students"
- Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: "Revisiting reflexology: Concept, evidence, current practice, and practitioner training"
- University Health Network: "How to Do Self Lymphatic Massage on your Lower Body"