hands massaging feet

Feet take all kinds of abuse: standing for long periods of time, walking, running, hiking, exercising, often wearing ill-fitting shoes. It’s no wonder foot massage is so welcome. The 7,200 nerve endings in the foot deserve to be pampered; massaging the feet is the perfect solution.

The Renaissance College Massage Program in Bountiful, Utah, reports that foot massage carries several important benefits, including improved circulation, relaxation and better sleep. Furthermore, it may help relieve body pain, boost mood and combat depression.

On Feet, a Little Lubricant Goes a Long Way

Debbie Pautrat, owner, Wellness Works in Silver Spring, Maryland, said, “Most of my clients receive full body massage with twenty to thirty minutes devoted to reflexology for their feet, which includes myofascial spreading of tissues, range of motion, if indicated, and a lot of pressure point work.”

Pautrat uses a minimal amount of lubricant when she massages feet. “Most people have enough natural moisture in their feet that I usually prefer [to] not use much lubricant,” she said. However, if a client requests extra glide, she will oblige with a little massage cream and essential oil of peppermint. Her massage cream contains unscented arnica, which can help reduce inflammation.

Lyn Haney, head of the reflexology program at the Academy of Massage Therapy and Bodyworks in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, draws upon her 30+ years experience as an operating nurse when she administers foot massage to her clients. She explained that nerve endings in the feet correlate to organs and glands in the body, so massaging the feet may help with any number of issues.

During massaging feet, Haney uses a “slight bit” of foot and leg cream that contains a small amount of mint. “I don’t want to cream up the feet. I want to get into the reflex points,” she said, noting that she may also use essential oils on the soles of the feet.

Glide vs. Friction

Eva Lister of Caring Hands in Manchester, Connecticut, has a private practice and makes home visits, mainly to older adults or clients with disabilities; these clients reap significant benefits from foot massage. “Hand and foot massage is a wonderful way to give therapeutic touch for clients who can’t get on a massage table or chair,” she said.

Lister prefers to use a cream for massaging feet, since it is less greasy than other vehicles, provides nice glide and enables her to do deep work. She added that the feet are the best place to use essential oils since there are no sebaceous glands in that part of the body. Lotions and creams don’t absorb as well, but essential oils are small molecules and can be more effective, she explained.

Consider the Ingredients

The creams Lister uses are usually coconut-based products, which offer several benefits. Unlike nut oils, which might trigger allergies, or olive oil, which can be irritating due to the oleic acid content, coconut-based products are benign and soften better, she noted.

While exfoliating is not the main purpose of foot massage, using a cream or oil can smooth rough skin, producing a happy side effect. “Coconut oil softens the skin and penetrates more than other oils,” Lister said. “A lanolin-based cream is also good for softening the skin.”

Products with sesame may offer some benefits as well, according to Lister. “They fight free radicals.” In some cases, she will use products infused with St. John’s Wort, which is traditionally used for neuropathy. 

Peppermint and lavender are found not only in essential oils, but are common ingredients in many topical products used for massaging feet. The former provides a stimulating effect, while the latter creates a more relaxing sensation, Lister said.

Occasionally, Lister will use a hemp-based salve or oil topically on a client. “It does not absorb into the bloodstream, but binds with cannabinoid receptors in the body. If something is specifically painful in the foot, this can be a localized treatment,” she said.

Contraindications for Massaging Feet

Regardless of the cream or oil used, Lister emphasized that the blend should be balanced and the therapist should always consult with the client before applying any product to the body.

Foot massage in general has no contraindications. However, there are certain instances in which it should be avoided. “If a client has an active infection or an open wound, you would not do foot massage,” Lister said. “If a client has active athlete’s foot or a toenail fungus, I wear gloves. But this is a barrier I don’t like.”

Haney emphasized that the most important factor to remember when doing foot massage is to maintain an open dialogue. “Everything goes back to communications,” she said. She encourages the therapist to ask questions continually throughout the massage session and constantly assess the client’s comfort level and preferences.

About the Author

Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage.