foot cramps

How To Use Massage for Foot Cramps and Spasms: A Simple Guide

How To Use Massage for Foot Cramps and Spasms: A Simple Guide

Whether you’re hopping into bed for the night or finishing up an intense workout, foot cramps can catch anyone off guard. In fact, studies show that 50-60% of healthy adults experience muscle cramps at times — including in the feet.

It’s not always easy to identify the cause of foot cramps, and they can sometimes happen for no apparent reason. But when they strike, could foot massage bring some relief?

Here’s what you need to know about massage for foot cramps, including the benefits, techniques, and when to talk to your doctor.

What Causes Foot Cramps?

Before trying massage for foot cramps, it can help to understand why they might be happening. Some common triggers include:

Dehydration

Not drinking enough water can be a big culprit behind foot cramps, and muscle cramps in general. 

Why? In short, an improper balance of water and electrolytes causes your muscles to function differently. Sometimes, it can result in your muscles feeling stiff and rigid, which may lead to involuntary spasms or contractions. 

Excessive Exercise

Training hard and overexerting your muscles — especially while running — could be another reason you’re experiencing foot cramps. Cramps can also happen when you’re brand new to exercise, since your foot muscles are adapting to an increased workload.

If you mainly experience foot cramps during exercise, it can help to:

  • Wear comfortable, supportive shoes
  • Stretch before and after your workout
  • Take a break when needed 

Poorly Fitting Footwear

Shoes that are too tight, narrow, or otherwise poorly fitting can also be a major source of foot cramps and spasms. High heels and shoes with little-to-no soles are common offenders — but any shoe that doesn’t support your unique foot shape could be adding to your symptoms.

Medical Conditions

While fleeting foot cramps aren’t usually anything to worry about, persistent cramps can sometimes stem from underlying medical conditions. These include:

  • Nutrient deficiencies, such as low potassium, magnesium, or vitamin D
  • Diabetes
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Nerve conditions such as neuropathy

Foot cramps can also be a side effect of certain medications, such as statins, anti-inflammatory drugs, diuretics, asthma drugs, and more.

When To Talk To Your Doctor

If you notice foot cramps regularly, it’s important to check with your healthcare team about what might be causing them. 

With their help, you can get to the root cause of your symptoms — whether it’s a lifestyle factor or something more serious. Plus, your doctor can help you determine whether foot massage is a safe choice for you.

What Are the Benefits of Massage for Foot Cramps?

Massage for foot cramps is a natural therapy with plenty of health benefits. With the proper techniques, a relaxing foot rub can:

Reduce Muscle Tightness 

Massage is one of the best home tools for breaking up muscle stiffness and adhesions. 

Its gentle friction and pressure warm up the muscle tissue, which can make a significant difference in tense, achy, or cramping feet.

Relieve Post-Exercise Soreness

If you’re someone who works out often, getting a massage regularly can help you curb post-workout soreness — including in your feet and calves.

In a 2017 review of studies, researchers found that massage after an intense workout could help reduce feelings of soreness and support overall muscle performance. 

In other words, when you notice cramping or discomfort in the days following a tough workout, a short foot rub could be worth a try.

Encourage Blood Flow

A good massage can encourage healthy blood flow in the feet, which can sometimes be prone to poor circulation

How does it work? The manual pressure of massage helps flush blood from muscle tissue, making room for new blood to flow in. It also increases the temperature of your muscles, which can help dilate blood vessels.

Beyond that, massage can shift your body into relaxation mode — helping to alleviate stress, temporarily lower blood pressure, and support healthy circulation as a whole.

How To Use Massage for Foot Cramps: 8 Techniques

So, how can you try massage for foot cramps and spasms at home? 

As a first step, you’ll need to find a comfortable place to sit. From there, cross one leg up over your opposite knee so that you can easily access your foot.

Once you’re ready, here are eight easy techniques to try:

1. Alternating Thumb Sweeps

When it comes to massage for foot cramps, thumb sweeps are among the simplest techniques out there. Sometimes called thumb twists, they’re a great way to warm up before a full foot massage session. 

Here are the steps:

  • Using both hands, place your thumbs on either side of the arch of your foot.
  • Begin to rub the foot with alternating sweeping motions. Start at the heel and make your way up to the ball of your foot. Repeat for 30 seconds.
  • Continue the motion down the foot, spending some time on the heel if needed.

2. Circular Thumb Work

Circular thumb work is a more focused way to soothe overactive muscles in the feet. Simply:

  • Start by using both thumbs to massage the heel using circular motions. (Tip: Begin with light-to-moderate pressure, and increase as needed.)
  • After ten seconds, make your way up along the arch of the foot. Repeat the technique for 10-20 seconds more.
  • Spend another 10 seconds massaging the ball of the foot, just under the toes.
  • Finally, use your thumb and index finger to gently knead each toe for 10-20 seconds. 

3. Knuckle Glides

Knuckle glides can help you work more deeply into the muscles on the bottom of your feet, without tiring out your hands and fingers. 

To try this technique:

  • Ball your hand into a fist, and place your knuckles right above your heel.
  • Slowly glide up the length of the foot with light-to-moderate pressure.
  • Repeat for 30-60 seconds.

4. Foot Spreads

Massage therapist performing a foot massage.

Foot spreads are another calming massage method that can relieve pain and discomfort in the feet. 

This technique is similar to thumb twists, except you’ll focus on an outward spreading motion that targets both the top and bottom of the foot.

Here’s how to try it:

  • Wrap both hands around the bottom of your foot, with your thumbs pointing up toward your toes. Your other fingers should be wrapped around the top of your foot.
  • Starting just above the heel, begin to squeeze and massage in an outward motion. 
  • Slowly make your way up the length of the foot, spending a few extra seconds on the heel and toes as needed.

5. Focused Heel Work

Heels can be a surprisingly common source of foot pain, especially if you’re a runner or live with a condition like plantar fasciitis. Luckily, the right massage techniques make it easy to target and relax your heels at home.

This simple technique is great on its own or alongside a full foot rub. Simply:

  • Use your thumbs to warm up the heel. Start in the center, and massage out toward the edges of your foot. 
  • With moderate pressure, use your thumb to massage more deeply into the heel using circular motions. Feel free to spend extra time along the back and sides of the heel, which can also carry unexpected tension.
  • Finally, cup the heel with one hand. Use broad pressure to knead the heel for 10-20 seconds more.

6. Toe Pulls

When it comes to massage for foot cramps, most techniques focus on the sole of the foot. But if you want to give your toes some TLC, toe pulls are a great way to do it.

Here’s how:

  • Hold your foot in place using one hand.
  • Using your opposite hand, grab your big toe with your thumb and index finger. 
  • Gently pull the toe backward. Then, bend it forward, aiming to feel a light stretch in the muscles. 
  • Continue with each toe, and repeat with the opposite foot.

7. Rolling Foot Massage

If you have a tennis ball or water bottle on hand, you can try a simple rolling foot massage. This technique is a quick and easy way to target tired, achy feet muscles. 

Simply:

  • Sit on a couch or comfortable chair, and place your ball (or water bottle) on the ground in front of you. 
  • Rest your foot on the round surface,
  • Use moderate pressure to roll the foot from the heel to the toes.
  • Repeat for 2-4  minutes, up to a few times per day as needed.

8. Home Massager

Person using the MedMassager MMF07 foot massager.

When you want to avoid the strain of hands-on massage, using a home foot massager can be a fantastic alternative. 

Home massagers are excellent because they allow you to fully relax while soothing your foot cramps — which can often strike before bedtime. 

To use one:

  • Turn your foot massager to its gentlest setting.
  • Place your feet on the massage surface. Allow the vibrations to warm up your feet for 1-2 minutes.
  • Turn the foot massager up to your desired intensity.
  • Allow the oscillating motions to deeply soothe your feet muscles for 5-10 more minutes.

Tips for a Better Massage Experience

While a foot massage on its own can make a world of difference in your comfort, certain tips can help you find even more relief. Try:

  • Starting your session with a warm soak. Hot water relaxes tense muscles and helps prepare your feet for a massage. Some people find that Epsom (magnesium) salt also helps soothe overactive muscles.
  • Using a few drops of oil or lotion. This can help reduce friction during the massage.
  • Paying attention to what feels pleasant and what doesn’t. A foot massage should feel good, especially if you’re aiming to relieve cramps and irritable muscles. So, be sure to avoid any techniques that feel painful or unpleasant.

Risks and Precautions To Keep in Mind

A quick foot massage can be a safe, natural remedy for most healthy adults. But sometimes, the wrong techniques can be uncomfortable or harmful — especially if you have a medical condition that may be affected by pressure. 

And depending on your situation, massage may not always be right for you.

With that in mind, here are some tips to ensure you stay safe when trying massage for foot cramps:

  • Check with your doctor ahead of time if you have any health conditions, such as neuropathy, that haven’t been OK’d for massage in the past. Your doctor can ensure you get started safely.
  • Avoid massaging acute or recent injuries, such as tears, broken bones, or strains.
  • Watch out for broken skin, cuts, or bruises.
  • Start with lighter pressure and increase as needed. This can help you dial the massage up to the pressure that feels best to you without risking overdoing it.

Other Home Remedies

Beyond massage, there are plenty of other steps you can take to ease — and potentially prevent — future foot cramps. These include: 

Shake It Out and Get Moving

When you notice cramps or spasms in your feet, sometimes getting up and walking around can help your muscles calm down. You can also try to “shake it out” by wiggling your feet and toes for a few seconds. 

In addition to moving around, specific stretches and exercises can help support your overall foot health. You can try:

Toe Scrunches

Toe scrunches can help strengthen your toes, engage your foot muscles, and even improve your balance. 

To get started, you’ll need to grab a towel or rag. From there:

  • Sit on a comfortable chair, and smooth out the towel on the ground in front of you.
  • Rest your foot halfway on the towel, with your toes pointing forward.
  • Keeping your heel planted on the ground, flex the foot to lift the toes.
  • Reach forward with your toes, and aim to grab (or scrunch) the towel toward you.
  • Do 5-10 reps, and repeat with the other foot.

Toe Splays

Toe splays are another great exercise for strengthening and engaging the feet.

To try them:

  • Sit in a comfortable chair, and plant your feet firmly on the ground.
  • Flex the feet, and lift your toes off the ground.
  • Spread your toes and hold for 3-5 seconds.
  • Do 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps.

Get Enough Water and Electrolytes

Because dehydration (and sometimes an imbalance of electrolytes) can be the culprit behind foot cramps, it’s essential to keep an eye on your water intake throughout the day. 

Most people need around 11.5-15.5 cups of water daily — which can come from a mix of plain water and other sources like juice, tea, fruit, and vegetables. However, you might need more in certain situations. For example, it’s best to aim for a little extra hydration if you’re spending lots of time in the gym, working in hot weather, or are of older age.

Eat a Well-Rounded Diet

Along with staying hydrated, it’s also crucial to get enough magnesium, calcium, and potassium in your diet. These essential minerals help your muscles function at their best — but it’s not always easy to get adequate amounts of them, especially without enough whole foods in your diet.

Fortunately, you can get more of these nutrients through foods like:

  • Leafy greens such as kale and spinach, which provide significant amounts of magnesium, iron, manganese, and vitamin A
  • Avocados, which have a significant amount of magnesium
  • Dried fruits, bananas, and potatoes, which are all rich sources of potassium
  • Dairy, cheese, and yogurt, which are great sources of calcium

Take a Look at Your Footwear

Another way to combat foot cramps is to take a look at your footwear. If your symptoms aren’t due to exercise, a medical condition, or a nutritional issue, then switching your shoes can be another way to reduce the odds of cramps happening again.

Be sure to check that your shoes:

  • Are both long and wide enough for your feet, especially at the toes
  • Are sturdy but flexible enough to bend and twist with your movements
  • Have insoles that support your foot’s unique arch shape and biomechanics
  • Feel comfortable to you 

The Takeaway on Massage for Foot Cramps

Foot cramps can happen when you least expect them, but the good news is that a simple massage could help.

Foot massage can relieve stiffness, encourage blood flow, support mobility, and soothe soreness after exercise. And the best part is that it’s easy to try at home — with simple techniques like thumb twists, knuckle glides, or a rolling foot massage.

It’s important to check with your doctor if you’ve been dealing with persistent foot cramps, as it could be a sign of an underlying health condition. With their help, you can get on track to finding the right treatments and home remedies for you.

Get Therapeutic Foot Massage at Home

For restorative massage in the comfort of your home, pick up the MedMassager Foot Massager Plus today. Or, learn about the many ways it can bring relief here.

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