Neuropathy can be a difficult condition to manage. If you suffer from it you’ve probably considered multiple ways to ease the pain and discomfort associated with the condition.
Elevating your feet, getting more light exercise, stretching, and carefully applied heat therapy can all help to ease symptoms. Other tips include wearing neuropathy socks or slippers for neuropathy – using different shoes can help as well.
But perhaps you’ve also wondered about the benefits of foot massage for neuropathy.
In this article, you’ll find out why it’s beneficial, what downsides there may be, if you need a professional, or if you can do it yourself. Let’s get into it!
What Is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy—or peripheral neuropathy—is a condition that occurs when some of the peripheral nerves in the body get damaged, either from illness or injury. These nerves include:
- Sensory nerves, which help you to feel temperature, touch reception, and pain
- Motor nerves, which are responsible for your muscle movements
- Autonomic nerve, which regulates bodily functions like heart rate, digestion, and breathing.
When any of these nerves get damaged, it leads to “mixed messages” between the nerves, the spinal cord, the brain, and the body.
This can result in strange and often painful sensations that seem to occur with no stimulation. Neuropathy can lead to pain with no apparent cause, tingling or numbness, or strange hot and cold sensations, among other things.
These unusual sensations are often worse at night, and can disrupt sleep as a result. They are also more often felt in the extremities, particularly the feet.
Neuropathy can be caused by a variety of things. Diabetes is a common cause, as well as autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Trauma to the nerves from sports injuries, car accidents, falls, or other accidents can also lead to neuropathy.
Bacterial or viral infections, such as hepatitis B, HIV, and shingles can cause nerve damage, resulting in peripheral neuropathy.
Congenital disorders—such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease or connective tissue disorders—may also lead to nerve damage which can result in neuropathy.
Over time, use of certain medications or treatments such as chemotherapy can also have a damaging effect on the nerves, leading to one developing peripheral neuropathy.
What Are the Benefits of a Foot Massage?
A foot massage is not only relaxing, but it also has some far-reaching benefits throughout the body.
As neuropathy symptoms are often experienced in the feet, a foot massage can be an excellent way of relieving discomfort and pain.
Massage can help to stimulate blood flow in the feet, which brings oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the tissues. This can help to ease pain and strange sensations caused by neuropathy.
Reduces Muscle Pain and Cramping
When the feeling in your feet is impaired, you may not notice when your foot muscles are fatigued, especially after a particularly active day.
Massage can help to loosen up the muscles and reduce muscle cramps and tension. This will help to keep your feet flexible and mobile.
The act of massaging the muscles may also lead to a release of endorphins, as well as an increase in serotonin and dopamine and a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol.
Endorphins are the body’s natural painkiller, so this may help to numb the pain of neuropathy.
Serotonin and dopamine are “happy hormones”, which can also help to reduce anxiety and depression, both of which are a common side effect of peripheral neuropathy.
Accessible to Everyone
Foot massage is easily accessible to everybody. Even going to a professional for a massage is cost-effective and convenient.
If you don’t have the means to go for a professional massage, you can learn to massage your own feet at home or have your partner do it for you.
Does a Massage Help For Neuropathy?
Research has shown that massage can have a positive effect on the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. Studies show a reduction in pain and discomfort in patients experiencing peripheral neuropathy as a result of diabetes and chemotherapy.
Although the effects of massage are not permanent, it can reduce pain temporarily which should allow for improved sleep and better quality of life.
Types of Massage
Connective Tissue Massage or Fascial Stretch
This type of massage works with the skin and soft tissues—fascia—to relieve tension, improve mobility, increase circulation, and ultimately reduce pain. It’s a common type of massage that can be used to ease peripheral neuropathy pain.
Massotherapy is a form of massage that works on both the soft tissues and the muscles. The term is often used interchangeably with massage therapy.
Reflexology is a specific type of massage that’s most often done on the feet—sometimes on the hands and ears as well.
In reflexology, certain pressure points on the foot relate to specific other areas of the body. Although reflexology often falls under “alternative medicine”, it’s still a common practice for pain relief.
This form of massage may help to strengthen the immune system, which can be helpful for those with neuropathy caused by medical conditions.
It can also help to improve circulation, reduce stress, and help you to relax, which can have positive effects on pain relief.
Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT)
Lymph drainage therapy—LDT—is often used when there’s swelling in your legs. As a result of medical conditions or injury, lymphatic fluid can build up in the soft tissues, causing swelling, pain, and redness.
LDT is used to reduce inflammation and promote the flow of lymphatic fluid through the tissues. It can help to reduce pain.
Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT)
Neuromuscular therapy—NMT—is a form of massage therapy which focuses on soft tissue manipulation through static pressure. It helps to loosen tight muscles, improve mobility, and alleviate pain.
How Can I Massage My Feet Without Professional Help?
If you need to massage your own feet, the easiest way to get the right amount of pressure is to use a foot massage tool.
Foot massage balls or calf rollers are designed to mimic the feeling of a masseuse’s hands. Using a roller and massage oil or lotion can be a very effective home massage.
You can use heat therapy to loosen up your muscles, but be extra careful if your feeling in your feet is impaired. You could inadvertently burn yourself if you aren’t paying attention.
Also make sure you use light pressure to avoid accidentally hurting yourself or leaving bruises.
When to Find a Specialist
You can massage your own feet first, but professional massage is recommended if you have consistent pain and self-massage doesn’t ease the pain.
It’s also recommended for those who may have trouble reaching their own feet in order to massage them effectively.
It’s advisable to do your own research on massage therapists near you who specialize in massage for neuropathy.
Side Effects From Massages
There’s no research to suggest that foot massage has any negative side effects. However, a strong massage may cause bruising or sore muscles the following day, especially if you aren’t used to being massaged.
You should take care when it comes to massage oils, as some people may have an allergy to the essential oils that can burn the skin or cause a rash.
When Should You Avoid Massage?
Although there’s little risk of having negative effects as a result of the massage, there are certain cases in which you should avoid having a foot massage.
People with bleeding disorders or blood platelets disorders should avoid massage. Those with sensitive skin or known allergies to essential oils also shouldn’t have a massage.
If you have blood clots, fractured bones, skin infections, weak bones, or open wounds, no massage should be performed on that area.