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If you’re like me and your feet always need some extra loving but your husband won’t rub them (I know, right?) then it’s time to get a bit creative. As runners our feet are busy, busy, busy—and taking care of them with massage is a great way to prevent injury and practice self-care in-between physical therapy or sports massage appointments.
Samantha Gries PT, DPT, ATC, CMTPT of InStep Physical Therapy & Running Center answered our questions on the best way to massage our tender toes and keep our feet strong and pain-free.
1. Is a tennis ball enough to massage your feet at home?
Dr. Gries: A tennis ball is a good starting point when massaging one’s own feet since it is easily found around the house and inexpensive. When using a tennis ball to massage the foot, varying amounts of pressure can be used for a more or less intense massage. For instance, rolling the tennis ball between the bottom of the foot and the floor in a seated position will be less intense than a standing position. When using a tennis ball, roll from your heel to your toes.
Additional tools may be beneficial to localize or distribute pressures to different areas. Lacrosse balls, for example, can localize pressure to an area better than a tennis ball. Foot Rubz is another common tool to assist with a self foot massage. For bigger muscle groups, such as the calves, foam rollers and sticks can be used. Local running stores usually carry these tools and additional variations of these tools.
2. If a runner wants to rub their own feet in-between massages, what are the key areas to focus on?
Dr. Gries: Areas to focus on with a self massage would be the bottom of the foot from the heel to the toes, as this is where the majority of the soft tissue of the foot is located, including the commonly painful plantar fascia. You can also do some stretching of the bottom of the foot by wrapping your hand over the foot and pulling the foot and toes towards you, as demonstrated in this picture.
Since many of the muscles that attach to and control the foot are located at the lower leg, addressing these muscles is important when thinking about the feet. Therefore, you can also massage the lower leg muscles or use a foam roller or stick throughout the lower leg musculature.
3. Is there a way to use massage to prevent dreaded cramps in the arch of your foot?
Dr. Gries: The use of massage to prevent foot cramps is not entirely supported by research, but it may be helpful for some people. However, if a foot cramp does occur, then massage and stretching can alleviate the pain. Many factors can play a role in the development of foot cramps including overuse of the foot musculature, hydration status, electrolyte balance and vascular health. Proper footwear can alter the demands of the foot musculature and therefore reduce and prevent foot cramping.
4. How many times a week should people be massaging their feet?
Dr. Gries: The frequency of performing self foot massages will greatly vary between people. If foot pain/problems are present, then daily self foot massages may be beneficial, especially upon waking in the morning (even before getting out of bed) and before physical activity. Whether or not foot pain is present, foam rolling the lower leg musculature is helpful to do after physical activity to keep the feet healthy.
5. What else should we know?
Dr. Gries: When doing self massages, take note of any blisters, calluses, etc as these are indicators of increased stress at that particular area. The formation of blisters and calluses may be signs of improper footwear, socks or inserts. Individual foot and lower extremity biomechanics also lead to callus development.