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Foot Massage & Reflexology Benefits

They Feel Great - But Do They Also Improve Health?

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Updated April 28, 2014

Foot Massage & Reflexology Benefits

Cupping the Heel

Photo © Terence Vanderheiden, D.P.M.
There are many research studies that have reported benefits from foot massage, reflexology and acupressure. However, the quality of these research studies have varied greatly, and until these types of studies are done on large groups of people, it's hard to say definitively what benefit, if any, foot manipulation has on health.

Overall, it is generally accepted that these therapies are able to provide some benefits and they have little to no side effects. Researchers are just not sure how the therapies work. Learn more about some of the conditions that can benefit from foot massage, reflexology and acupressure.

Foot Ulcers

Trying to heal diabetic foot ulcers is often difficult and takes a lot of time. A research study found that compressed air massage decreased the time it took to heal diabetic foot ulcers. They suggest that it may work by improving local circulation and that it has the potential to be used to supplement standard surgical and medical treatment of diabetic foot ulcers.

Cancer Patients

Patients dealing with cancer experience many changes to their bodies and minds. Massage, reflexology and acupressure have been used as complementary therapies to traditional medical treatments in patients who have cancer. Many research studies have shown benefits such as decreased anxiety, pain intensity, nausea, vomiting and fatigue in patients who have cancer.

Post-op Pain

After surgery, it is not uncommon for patients to have pain. Foot and hand massages were given to post-operative patients and the research study found that pain scores, heart rate and respiratory rate decreased. It should be noted that the massages were given 1-4 hours after the patients took their pain medications, so this could have affected the results.

Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease is caused by hardening and narrowing of the arteries, which can lead to decreased blood flow. Acupressure has been shown to increase blood flow. A research study in patients with peripheral arterial occlusive disease (decreased blood flow in their lower legs), showed that acupressure increased the blood flow in the patients' lower legs.

Aging

Sometimes hitting middle age can bring about some unwanted changes in how you think and feel. A research study involving middle-aged women showed that self-reflexology decreased depression, perceived stress, systolic blood pressure, and helped strengthen their immune systems.

Menopause

Many physiological and psychological changes take place during menopause. In a research study comparing reflexology to foot massage, there was no difference in the amount of benefit of either one in helping with the symptoms of menopause. Both reflexology and foot massage helped to decrease anxiety, depression, hot flashes and night sweats in women during menopause.

High Blood Pressure

According to the American Heart Association, it is estimated that 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure. A research study looked at the benefits of reflexology on blood pressure, cholesterol and life satisfaction. They found that reflexology helped lower the systolic blood pressure, but not the diastolic number, and that life satisfaction was improved significantly. Overall, blood cholesterol levels did not show improvement.

Amputations

People with leg amputations often suffer from phantom limb pain. A research study looked at reflexology and its possible benefits for people with one leg amputated. The study found that reflexology of the foot and hands helped decrease the intensity and duration of phantom limb pain. This was a pilot study, so it was small and had only 10 participants.

Sources:

Brown CA, Lido C. Reflexology treatment for patients with lower limb amputations and phantom limb pain-An exploratory pilot study. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2008 May;14(2):124-31. Epub 2008 Mar 4.

Dibble SL, Luce J, Cooper BA, Israel J, Cohen M, Nussey B, Rugo H. Acupressure for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting: a randomized clinical trial. Oncol Nurs Forum. 2007 Jul;34(4):813-20.

Lee YM. [Effect of self-foot reflexology massage on depression, stress responses and immune functions of middle aged women]. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2006 Feb;36(1):179-88.

Li X, Hirokawa M, Inoue Y, Sugano N, Oian S, Iwai T. Effects of acupressure on lower limb blood flow for the treatment of peripheral arterial occlusive diseases. Surg Today. 2007;37(2):103-8. Epub 2007 Jan 25.

Mars M, Desai Y, Gregory MA. Compressed air massage hastens healing of the diabetic foot. Diabetes Technol Ther. 2008 Feb;10(1):39-45.

Park HS, Cho GY. [Effects of foot reflexology on essential hypertension patients]. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2004 Aug;34(5):739-50.

Quattrin R, Zanini A, Buchini S, Turello D, Annunziata MA, Vidotti C, Colombatti A, Brusaferro S. Use of reflexology foot massage to reduce anxiety in hospitalized cancer patients in chemotherapy treatment: methodology and outcomes. J Nurs Manag. 2006 Mar;14(2):96-105.

Stephenson NL, Swanson M, Dalton J, Keefe FJ, Engelke M. Partner-delivered reflexology: effects on cancer pain and anxiety. Oncol Nurs Forum. 2007 Jan;34(1):127-32.

Wang HL, Keck JF. Foot and hand massage as an intervention for postoperative pain. Pain Manag Nurs. 2004 Jun;5(2);59-65.

Williamson J, White A, Hart A, Ernst E. Randomised controlled trial of reflexology for menopausal symptoms. BJOG. 2002 Sep;109(9):1050-5.

Yang JH. [The effects of foot reflexology on nausea, vomiting and fatigue of breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy]. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2005 Feb;35(1):177-85.

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