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Foot Massage for Swollen Feet: What You Need To Know

Foot Massage for Swollen Feet: What You Need To Know

If you often wind up with swollen feet at the end of the day, you’re certainly not alone. Although not always serious, almost all of us will notice swollen feet at one point or another — whether it’s from a hot shower, health conditions, or simple wear and tear on your feet and ankles. 

Since swollen feet can sometimes be linked to health problems, finding the underlying cause is the most important first step. But depending on your diagnosis (and treatment), a gentle DIY foot massage could be a helpful tool in your self-care routine.

Here’s everything you need to know about foot massage for swollen feet, including the benefits, techniques, and tips to try it safely.

Common Causes of Swollen Feet

Swelling in the feet (also called edema) happens when an abnormal amount of fluid builds up in the foot tissue. Edema can signify a systemic problem, but there are also less serious reasons why you might notice swelling in your feet throughout the day.

Some of the most common causes of swollen feet include:

Standing or Walking for a Long Time

Have you ever noticed swollen feet after shopping, going to a concert, or standing at work all day? Sometimes, prolonged standing can be the culprit behind the swelling — and it’s all thanks to gravity.

When you’re on your feet for hours at a time, gravity can direct much of your blood and fluid into the lower body. This is why swollen feet can happen to everyone occasionally, and when this happens, it is typically not anything to worry about.

Lymphedema

Lymphedema refers to a condition where lymph fluid — a clear liquid that plays a role in your immune system — is unable to flow normally. In turn, it can build up in areas like the lower legs and feet.

Causes of lymphedema can range from cancer treatments to blockages or even just a simple lack of physical activity. If you think you might have lymphedema, it’s important to check with a doctor to make sure it isn’t linked to a serious medical condition or medication side effect.

Pregnancy

If you’re pregnant (or ever have been), you probably know that swollen feet can come with the territory. This happens because your body produces extra fluid and pressure when your uterus expands, and it’s often part of a normal, healthy pregnancy.

With that being said, be sure to check with your doctor if your swelling is sudden or severe, as it may be related to a condition called preeclampsia.  

Foot or Ankle Injury

Can you think of a time when part of your body swelled up after getting hurt? After an injury, your body sends extra fluid and white blood cells to speed up healing and protect the area — and as a result, it can lead to swelling. 

If your foot swelling is due to an injury, you might be able to trace it back to when the initial incident occurred, like during a trip or fall. Depending on how severe the injury is, you might also notice extra redness or tenderness around the area.

Other Health Conditions or Medications

Many conditions can affect your immune system, lymphatic system, and cardiovascular system — all of which can impact how fluids move throughout your body (and your feet).

Some more serious causes of foot swelling may include:

  • Heart disease. Many cardiovascular conditions can affect your circulation and blood flow.
  • Liver or kidney disease. If your liver or kidneys are damaged or failing, it can also cause fluid buildup in the lower body.
  • Venous insufficiency. This condition happens when your lower leg veins become damaged or are not working efficiently. As a result, it can make it harder for your body to circulate blood up to the heart, leading to swelling in the legs and feet.
  • Infection. Infections can also cause swelling in the lower extremities.
  • Blood clots, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT), can also cause swelling in the legs and feet. DVT is a serious condition, and it’s important to see a doctor ASAP if you suspect you might have it.

Talking to Your Doctor

Foot swelling isn’t always serious, but when it’s persistent, painful, or only affects one side, it might indicate a more urgent medical issue. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s vital to seek emergency medical attention if your swelling comes with chest pain, breathing problems, shortness of breath, fainting, dizziness, or coughing blood.

In addition, check with a doctor ASAP if your swelling:

  • Happens only on one side
  • Occurs after a physical injury or trauma
  • Is sudden without an obvious cause

Before You Try Massage for Swollen Feet

It’s true that most times, gently massaging swollen or achy feet is unlikely to do any harm. However, it’s essential to see your doctor first if you think that your swelling might be a sign of a more serious health issue.

Some conditions, like heart failure, blood clots, or kidney issues, are serious and contraindications of massage. Not only would it be best to avoid massage with conditions like these, but you’ll also want to get on track with a proper treatment plan for your specific medical condition. 

Natural therapies like massage can be soothing and helpful for many, but they’re no substitute for treatments and medical advice from your healthcare team.

What Are the Benefits of Massage for Swollen Feet?

If your swelling happens to come after a long day of standing, eating too much sodium, or other minor causes, foot massage can be an excellent way to encourage lymph fluid and healthy, oxygen-rich blood to flow freely.

Not only that, but when done properly, massage has a powerful ability to deeply relax the body. Relaxation also supports healthy blood flow, while the opposite emotion — stress — can actually constrict the blood vessels in your feet and hands. 

A bonus benefit is that if your swelling has caused discomfort or muscle tightness, a light massage can help you soothe the tension and pain that might’ve come with it.  

Massage and Foot Swelling Research

While more research is being done on exactly how massage can impact lymphatic drainage, fluid, and blood flow, some research has been promising so far. For example, in one 2020 study, researchers sought to find out how foot massage would affect 90 pregnant women with edema in the legs. The participants were split into three groups:

  • Group one received massage with grapeseed oil
  • Group two received massage with sweet almond oil
  • Group three did not receive an intervention

Twenty-minute-long foot massages were given over the course of five days to the two experimental groups. Remarkably, the groups who received the massage both had lower average foot circumferences by the end of the study compared to the control group.

In another 2021 review, researchers looked at several studies on lymphatic drainage massage for musculoskeletal injuries. They found that massage seemed to benefit the patients’ swelling and pain, boost mobility, and even improve quality of life.

What’s the Best Type of Massage for Swollen Feet?

Generally, the best type of massage for swollen feet tends to be the kind that is gentle, rhythmic, and flows in the natural direction of your circulatory and lymph systems. For this reason, many professional massage therapists would recommend lymphatic drainage massage for swelling in the feet and legs.

Lymphatic drainage massage uses very light pressure to help guide lymph fluid out of blocked or congested areas. It involves very specific techniques that are typically applied by rehab specialists, physical therapists, or certified massage therapists. 

If your feet simply feel a little swollen after standing all day, you might not always need advanced techniques like lymphatic drainage. In these cases, gentle gliding techniques may be enough to encourage blood flow and decrease swelling at home.

How To Try Massage for Swollen Feet

With the green light from your doctor, you can get started with foot massage as part of your self-care routine. Whether you want to see a pro or try daily home massage, here are a few options to keep in mind:

Professional Massage

This is often the best path for those with specific medical conditions who want to try massage. For example, if you have lymphedema as a result of a cancer treatment or another medical issue, you can work with your healthcare team to find a licensed massage therapist experienced with your specific condition.

But professional massage isn’t just for those with medical concerns; Swedish, sports, or deep tissue massage can all boost your well-being by helping you mitigate stress, improve circulation, and support your body’s systems on a holistic level. 

Self-Foot Massage

Self-foot massage provides an easy way to soothe swollen, achy feet after standing or walking for hours on end. Some of the simplest home techniques include:

  • Effleurage, or lightly gliding your palms up the length of the calf and foot muscles 
  • Knuckle glides along the arch of the foot
  • Petrissage, or kneading the foot and calf muscles

Medical Massage Tools

Home tools like the MedMassager Foot Massager Plus can be another helpful addition to your home massage routine. This tool specifically is FDA certified and trusted by physicians — and it’s even FSA/HSA eligible when approved as a qualified medical expense.

Its massage surface uses a blend of oscillation and vibration therapy to stimulate the muscles while deeply relieving common aches and pains. It’s also very easy to use. Simply:

  • Set it to the lightest pressure. 
  • Warm your feet up for a minute or two. 
  • Deepen the pressure, allowing it to work into your foot tissue for up to 15 minutes at a time.

Safety Tips for Trying Massage for Swollen Feet

The chief way to stay safe while trying massage for swollen feet is to talk to your doctor. Ruling out health issues — especially serious ones like DVT or congestive heart failure — is the best way to know that it’s a safe therapy for you to try.

But for everyday, minor swelling, here are some tips that can boost your relief and help you stay safe along the way:

  • Be kind and gentle to your body. Take self-massage as an opportunity to mindfully pay attention to how your feet and lower legs feel. Use this feedback as a way to guide your massage pressure and techniques. 
  • Get tips from a pro. Talking to a professional massage therapist or physical therapist can help you learn effective manual techniques to try at home.
  • Watch out for inflammation or injury. Swelling from fluid buildup can benefit from gentle massage — but it’s best to give hot, red, or swollen injury sites time to heal before putting direct pressure on them.

Additional Remedies and Lifestyle Changes for Foot Swelling

Beyond massage, plenty of home remedies and lifestyle changes can help keep your foot swelling down to a minimum. Here are some tips and tools to try for improved circulation and better overall foot health:

Elevation

Elevation is one of the easiest ways to improve swollen feet, especially when you’ve been standing for a long time. By elevating your feet, you can use gravity to your advantage after it's been working against you all day. To add elevation to your routine, you can:

  • Lie down and rest your feet on a raised cushion or pillow
  • Lie on the floor and raise your legs up a wall
  • Rest your feet on an ottoman or coffee table while you watch TV or relax on the couch (instead of resting them on the floor)

Exercise

Exercise isn’t just a good way to get fit — it’s also a powerful tool for boosting your circulation, heart health, and lymphatic system. If you’re looking to combat swollen feet, you can try a quick walk or yoga session. You could also opt for simple foot and ankle stretches, like calf raises or ankle circles.

At any rate, getting your body moving can soothe and mitigate certain types of swelling, and it may even help reduce how often it happens in the long run.

Nutrition

You might not think much about the role that nutrition plays in swelling. But the truth is that certain minerals, electrolytes, and nutrients can affect your circulation, as well as how much fluid your body retains.

Eating a diverse diet with a balance of protein, carbs, fats, and colorful fruits and veggies is a great place to start. But when it comes to swollen feet specifically, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep an eye on your sodium intake. Too much salt can cause your body to retain excess water, which may be adding to your swollen feet.
  • Get enough potassium. Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte that helps your body maintain the right balance of water and salt. Good potassium sources include bananas, russet potatoes, and broccoli.
  • Increase magnesium. Magnesium is another electrolyte and mineral that can help you combat water retention. Spinach, nuts, and avocados are all good everyday foods that can help you reach a healthy magnesium intake.

Finally, don’t forget to hydrate! It might seem odd, but when your body is low on water, it’s more likely to try and hold onto the fluid it does have. In other words, staying hydrated can help you reduce water retention and encourage the healthy flow of fluids in your body.

Compression Socks

Compression socks, sleeves, and bandages like ACE wraps are commonly recommended by physicians to help with swelling in the feet and legs. 

These compression tools typically work by applying deeper pressure at the forefoot that lightens as it goes up the leg. This pressure can help support healthy blood and lymph flow, all while decreasing excess swelling and fluid.

The Takeaway

Swollen feet can happen for many reasons — ranging from standing all day to eating too much salt or even more serious health conditions like blood clots. 

The good news is that when your swelling is due to wear and tear or the simple pull of gravity, massage therapy can be a fantastic way to support lymph, fluid, and blood flow in the feet. Advanced types like lymphatic drainage massage can also be helpful for certain conditions like lymphedema or edema, but it’s always key to get the OK from your doctor before starting.

When you’re ready, you can visit a pro or try hands-on foot massage at home. Or, for a daily circulation boost whenever you need it most, an FDA-certified massager like the MedMassager Foot Massager Plus can help. Pick yours up today, or learn more about the many ways it can bring relief.

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