Massaging Swollen Feet: How to Soothe Painful Feet and Ankles

December 22, 2022

Nearly everyone will experience foot swelling at some point in their lives, whether they're sitting at a desk for work, or even simply standing for long periods of time.

The body tries very hard to mitigate fluid retention, but a combination of a stationary position, dehydration, and gravity can interfere with this. Unfortunately, the end result is often fluid buildup in the lower extremities, and the discomfort can last for hours.

If you are prone to swelling feet or ankles, there are many steps you can take beforehand to prevent it, such as staying hydrated, using compression socks, or reducing sodium in your diet.

However, as is often the case, some people are simply prone to swelling no matter how many measures they put in place beforehand. The next step is to -- literally -- get a bit more hands-on.

Manual massage therapy is beneficial for any limb or muscle, and the lower extremities are no exception. Today, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about proper foot massage, and how to recognize the signs of swelling in your feet and ankles.

Why are my feet and ankles swelling?

The medical term for swelling in tissues is called edema, and it's a very common issue. It is most often caused by a combination of a stationary position and gravity, such as sitting at a desk for a long period of time without getting up to move, or traveling on a long flight without stretching. Pressure builds up in the legs over time, and symptoms include increased pain and discomfort in the foot (especially if you wear tight-fitting shoes), aches in the legs, pain in the arch, and stiffness throughout the lower body.

There are a few risk factors involved in the development of edema, including:

Diet and salt intake

Lifestyle is a huge factor in the likelihood of swelling in the feet and ankles. Fluid retention is highly influenced by our diets, which is why some experts recommend increasing intake of potassium, to improve circulation, or magnesium supplements.

A diet with high salt intake is associated with more swelling, since salt forces the body to hang on to more fluid. Dehydration can also increase fluid retention, and a combination of any of these can make swelling more painful.

Hot climate

The likelihood of developing edema can also be due to the environment. Heat edema is swelling that is caused in part by remaining stationary in a hot environment for too long. Hot climates and heat tend to make blood vessels expand, leading to more fluid being drawn into tissues that are not moving, or have inadequate compression.

Certain medical conditions

Some people are prone to developing edema in their feet and ankles if they have a medical condition that impacts water retention and circulation. For example, pregnancy can impact both fluid retention and mobility, so it's no surprise that edema is one of the most common discomforts reported by pregnant women.

While complications from edema are rare beyond pain and discomfort, sometimes it can lead to more serious health risks. Specifically, patients with a history of blood flow or blood clotting disorders like deep vein thrombosis (DVT) are at a higher risk of complications if they develop edema. If you are concerned about the severity or frequency of swelling or excess fluid buildup in your feet, be sure to have a conversation with your doctor to discuss treatment options.

How does foot massage help with swollen feet?

So you have taken all the preventative measures you can, but you're still experiencing swollen feet. Massages, for example, are wonderful ways to alleviate pain no matter which muscles are being treated. This is where foot massage comes in.

A foot massage applied to the swollen area can reduce swelling, and its use is so well-regarded that professional reflexology massage therapy is a popular podiatry treatment for reducing inflammation and pain. Foot massages that include firm strokes around the pressure points can soothe aching feet, promote relaxation, and relieve tension when swelling gets out of hand. The benefits will be noticeable almost immediately, and let's face it -- a massage of any kind just feels good.

An effective foot massage will usually include:

Epsom salt soak

It's a good idea to soak your swollen feet in warm water containing epsom salt. Besides the warm water providing relief, epsom salt contains magnesium sulfate, which is thought to penetrate the skin and alleviate inflammation. It helps to soften the area and make a massage more effective. It's not a necessary step for a foot massage, but it does make the therapy more soothing.

Massage oil

Oils help your hands glide across the skin, increasing comfort and the ease of which you can apply pressure. Some oils are specifically formulated for the feet, with some having antifungal properties to combat athlete's foot.

Targeting pressure points

Firm strokes around the pressure points can move fluid that tends to build up in those places, and helps reduce swelling rapidly. Be firm, but careful, as the pressure points on our feet can be particularly tender especially if you have intense pain from swelling. Focus on where the foot feels most tender, and be gentle as needed.

A soothing cream

Finishing off a massage with a soothing cream or lotion is a wonderful way to lock in the benefits. A popular choice for feet includes ALeaf's own CBD Foot Cream, which is formulated to target aches and pains in the foot and lower leg area. CBD's inflammation-fighting properties are being better understood, and a CBD cream can carry pain relief benefits for hours.

Final thoughts

Swollen feet are annoying, but they don't have to reduce your mobility if you're on top of your diet, exercise, and supplements. A foot massage is an effective therapy for soothing feet that are already swollen.