Arthritis Foot Massage: A Tool for Pain & Stiffness Relief?

Arthritis Foot Massage: A Tool for Pain & Stiffness Relief?

Alicia Schultz Alicia Schultz
13 minute read

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With every step you take, your feet absorb an estimated 120% of your body’s total weight. This can mean a lot of strain on the delicate joints in your feet — and it’s why it’s not uncommon to experience arthritis foot pain at some point in your life.

Whether your foot pain is from high-impact exercise or simply getting older, you might be curious about trying arthritis foot massage. But how can it help, and is it safe to try?

Below, we’ll dive into the details on arthritis foot massage, including the potential benefits, when to try it (and when to avoid it), and other tips for finding relief.

Types of Foot Arthritis

Arthritis is a broad term for joint pain, and it can come in many forms. But when it comes to the feet, the most common kinds are:

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is also known as “wear-and-tear” arthritis — often sprouting up after years of impact from walking, running, or playing sports.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that can damage the cartilage and ligaments over time. It often affects people in their later years (50+), but it can also impact younger people who put a lot of strain on their feet and ankles.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune type of joint pain that occurs when your immune cells mistakenly attack healthy joints. It commonly affects the feet and can result in pain, inflammation, and even cartilage or ligament damage over time.

Post-traumatic Arthritis

Did you know that previously injured joints are 7 times more likely to end up with future arthritis? It’s called post-traumatic arthritis, and it sometimes happens after injuries like bone breaks or dislocations. Like other forms of this condition, it can also lead to cartilage and tissue loss in the joints.

How Do You Treat Foot Arthritis?

Everyone who’s lived with foot arthritis knows how challenging it can be. But the good news is that the right treatments can often help you ease pain and get back to your normal routine. 

Your doctor might suggest:

  • Physical therapy to strengthen the joints
  • Assistive devices — like braces — to support your ankles and feet
  • Medications for managing pain
  • Lifestyle modifications, such as losing weight or adjusting your workout routine

If your pain is taking a toll on your daily activities (and you’ve tried other first-line treatments), surgery may also be an option. But in milder cases of foot arthritis, the right home remedies — including massage — could make a big difference in your comfort and well-being.

The Potential Benefits of Arthritis Foot Massage

Massage is a complementary therapy — and while it’s not considered a cure or treatment for arthritis, many people find that the right techniques can have a positive impact on their well-being. 

If you’re curious about trying this natural remedy, its benefits may include:

Supports Range of Motion

You might’ve heard before that massage can help with stiffness and mobility. And remarkably, the research so far seems to support this. 

According to a 2022 review of 12 studies, massage may lead to a short-term boost in pain, stiffness, and function for those with knee osteoarthritis. 

In another small 2022 study in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, researchers looked at how foam rolling affected ankle range of motion (ROM). They found that self-massage to the calf muscle led to a boost in ankle dorsiflexion — aka the ability to flex the foot up towards the shin.

Reduced Soreness 

If you’ve ever had a foot massage after being on your feet all day, you’re probably no stranger to the fact that it can calm achy muscles. 

In fact, the Arthritis Foundation notes that massage may improve pain in the back, hands, knees, and even in patients with fibromyalgia.

But why exactly does massage seem to help so much with discomfort? Researchers don’t have a definitive answer yet. But in part, it could be because it reduces tension and triggers endorphins that help with relaxation.

Another theory is that it stimulates competing pressure receptor nerves in the muscles, which could change how you experience pain in the moment.

Stress Relief

Whenever you feel a spike of stress, your body starts to ramp up its systems to prepare for danger. 

It pumps your heart faster, increases your blood pressure, and tenses up your muscles. But over the long haul, too much of this tension can put unneeded strain on your joints. 

The good news? Foot massage can help you manage stress, especially when used regularly. The soothing pressure helps your body slow down and switch out of fight-or-flight mode — and in turn, it could reduce some of the muscle tension around your feet and ankles.

What To Consider Before Trying Arthritis Foot Massage

Before trying arthritis foot massage, it’s important to:

  • Check with your doctor about whether it’s a good fit for you. For example, if you have significant joint wear from arthritis, you might have to be extra careful about trying massage. Your doctor can help you work out the details to stay safe. 
  • Focus on the muscles, not the joints themselves. Massage works best on areas with muscle tissue. On the other hand, it can hurt bony spots that don’t have much soft tissue to protect them.
  • Watch out for inflammation and active flare-ups. Joints that are inflamed and swollen can be especially sensitive to touch. So, when you notice a flare-up, be sure to avoid the joint and focus on surrounding healthy tissue instead. 
  • Avoid painful techniques. Whether you’re working with a therapist or are trying self-massage, know that it should feel good. By staying mindful of pain, you can avoid any techniques that might be more harmful than they are helpful. 

How To Try Arthritis Foot Massage: 4 Self-Massage Techniques

When it comes to foot pain remedies, self-massage is a great option; it’s quick, easy, and can be done while you’re relaxing at home. 

To get started, here are four beginner-friendly options that can be done in just a few minutes:

1. Arch Massage

Although not a joint itself, the arch can be a major source of pain and tension in the feet and ankles — especially if you spend a lot of time standing, walking, or doing other labor throughout the day.

Luckily, it’s easy to target this area with hands-on massage.

Simply:

  • Sit in a position that allows you to comfortably reach your foot. (Many people find that sitting and crossing one foot over their other knee is the easiest way to massage the feet.)
  • Use a drop of oil to add some moisture to your foot. 
  • Place your thumb horizontally just above the heel. 
  • Use moderate pressure to glide your thumb up along the arch of the foot. 
  • Repeat for 2–3 minutes.

2. Hands-On Lower Leg Massage

When it comes to arthritis foot massage, the ankle is another common hotspot for pain. 

Of course, it’s a bony area, so it doesn’t always have a lot of muscle tissue to work on. But using gentle pressure on the surrounding muscles can still be seriously relaxing — to your feet, calves, and ankles themselves. 

Here’s how to try it:

  • Apply a small amount of oil to your foot, ankle, and calf.
  • Begin to massage the calf upward in light, sweeping motions. 
  • After 1–2 minutes, make your way down to the ankle area. 
  • Experiment with a few seconds of gentle, circular motions on the tissue surrounding the malleolus (your round ankle bone). (Note: Feel free to skip this step if it causes any discomfort.)
  • Finally, make your way down to the foot. Use your index finger and thumb to massage in kneading motions, starting at the heel and working up to the ball of the foot.
  • Repeat for a total of 3–5 minutes.

3. Toe Massage 

Your toes are home to many joints. And when it comes to arthritis foot massage, a few gentle, toe-focused techniques can be the perfect way to end a session.

Here are two easy options to try:

  • Toe bends: Use your index finger and thumb to gently pull each toe forward and backward.
  • Toe squeezes: Lightly squeeze each of the toes with soft pressure to massage the muscles. 

4. Try Home Massage Tools

Person using a massage ball on lower calf muscle.

Massage tools can help you add more variety to your home arthritis foot massage routine.

If you don’t already own one, it’s important to opt for a trusted brand with a reputation for quality products. And if you’re not sure where to start, it’s never a bad idea to check with your doctor or podiatrist about massagers they might recommend. 

Common types of foot massage tools include:

Oscillating Massagers

Foot massagers like the MedMassager MMF07 use oscillating technology to massage the feet, ankles, and lower legs, which can be incredibly soothing after a long day on your feet. 

Normally, it’s best to start home massagers like these at their lightest setting, and gradually increase the massage intensity as you go. 

If you’ve shopped around, you’ve probably seen a big variety of these devices on the market. But if you need help finding a high-quality option, be sure to choose one that’s:

  • Physician-trusted
  • Equipped with multiple speed and pressure settings
  • Highly reviewed

Therapeutic Massage Ball

For a more affordable (but still deeply relaxing) home arthritis foot massage, a therapeutic massage ball can be a great choice.

The limitation with massage balls is that they tend to be best for an arch-focused foot roll — but on the plus side, they’re very easy to use, and you can even try specific techniques to roll out tight calves. 

Another benefit is that there are lots of everyday items that can double as massage balls. These include:

  • Lacrosse balls
  • Tennis balls
  • Golf balls

Tips for Deeper Massage Relief

To get even deeper relief from your arthritis foot massage routine, you can try tips like:

  • Consider getting a referral from your podiatrist for a professional massage therapist. This is a great step if (or when) you’re ready to invest more into your massage routine. 
  • Try adding aromatherapy to your session. You might find that certain soothing scents — such as lavender, eucalyptus, or lemongrass — help your joints feel even more relaxed.
  • Include it as part of your bedtime routine. If massage is making a positive difference for you, you could try making it a bedtime ritual. A 5–10 minute foot massage at night could help you combat pain, alleviate stress, and even fall asleep more easily.
  • Start light and improve pressure to your comfort level. Too much pressure can be uncomfortable and even harmful, especially when you’re working near delicate joints.

Are There Any Times To Avoid Arthritis Foot Massage?

Be sure to wait before trying arthritis foot massage and ask a doctor first if you have:

  • Significant cartilage or joint damage
  • A current flare-up
  • Varicose veins
  • Significant neuropathy or nerve damage in the feet
  • A history of blood clots, or any current symptoms, such as a red, throbbing area of pain in your calf or thigh
  • Any other health conditions that may be affected by foot massage

What About Reflexology Foot Massage?

If you’ve been looking into foot massage lately, you might’ve heard of reflexology. Reflexology is an ancient Chinese technique that focuses on pressure points in the feet and hands. 

Many people who practice it believe that these points are linked to other parts of the body. For example, the outer upper edge of the foot correlates with the shoulders, the small toes connect to the sinuses, etc. 

While the jury’s still out on whether or not these points are truly linked with their correlating body systems, reflexology does seem to provide many benefits of classic foot massage — especially when it comes to stiffness, pain, and stress relief. 

For example, a 2018 study found that six weeks of reflexology appeared to have a positive effect on rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients’ pain and sleep quality.

Other Foot Arthritis Relief Tips

Aside from arthritis foot massage, you might wonder: What else can help you manage foot pain and stiffness when it occurs? 

Some great steps to take include:

Checking With Your Healthcare Team

If you haven’t already, it’s important to get in touch with your healthcare team about your arthritis pain. 

While foot arthritis can be painful, many treatments have been shown to help. Your physician can help you navigate your options and find the ones that could make the biggest difference for you.

If your pain is on the severe side, they can also help you decide whether certain treatments — like steroid injections, prescription medication, or surgery — might be a good fit.

Support Your Feet With Lifestyle Changes

Beyond medical treatments, switching up your daily activities (and sometimes bigger lifestyle modifications) can also play a role in keeping your pain in check. 

Some helpful things you can try include:

  • Consider lower-impact activities. If you love exercise but find that certain sports or workouts hurt your feet, it can help to look into gentler options. For example, you could try yoga, swimming, or even brisk walking instead of running or sprinting. 
  • Prioritize movement. It’s true that foot pain might mean avoiding high-impact activities. But regular, mindful exercise (within your limits) is good for both your heart and your joints. 
  • Stay at a healthy weight. This can help you minimize everyday shock on your feet and ankles.

Explore Other Home Remedies

Other home remedies that your doctor may recommend for pain include:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications
  • Shoes with good support for your unique arch shape
  • Stretches and exercises to support your joints, such as arch stretches, ankle mobility exercises, or toe stretches
  • Custom orthotic inserts for added support
  • Topical gels with a cooling or soothing effect

The Takeaway on Arthritis Foot Massage

If you’ve ever stubbed your toe and tried to rub away the pain, you know that the urge to use massage comes naturally. And as it turns out, it’s for good reason. 

Foot massage not only feels relaxing, but it can promote a healthy range of motion, reduce stiffness, and ease sore muscles.

Before you get started, it’s important to remember to avoid putting pressure on bony areas or active flare-ups. And if you’re not sure if foot massage is right for you, checking with your doctor can help you learn if (and how) it could fit into your care routine. 

Once you’re ready, you can give your feet some extra TLC with massage — whether that’s with a bedtime foot rub or a daily session using a foot massager.

For Restorative Home Foot Massage

Learn more about the MedMassager MMF07 today, or explore all its soothing uses here

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