Put your best feet forward! Foot health and massage therapy

By: Jessica Zatylny-Koch, RPN, RMT

Jessica is a registered practical nurse and registered massage therapist with advanced training in foot and leg care. In her mobile foot-care practice and as a massage therapist, Jessica has witnessed how improved foot health contributes to better health for the whole body.

Feet are one area of the body that often gets neglected!

This could be because they are the furthest things from our brains or possibly because they are hidden throughout the day. They are, however, extremely important not only for ambulation and bringing us everywhere we need to go, but for the overall health of our body.

There are many issues that can arise with the feet that can be very painful and often debilitating for some people. Some conditions can be easily helped with proper fitting footwear, while others can require correcting muscle imbalances, improving gait, having massage therapy treatments, and other lifestyle changes (such as eating a healthy diet, and managing other health conditions).

Like other health concerns, the importance of taking care of your feet normally comes up when pain has already started, but a much easier idea is to care for your feet so no problem begins.

Some Common Conditions:

  • Plantar fasciitis (fa-shee-eye-tis) – Repeated strain of the ligament that supports the arch on the bottom of the foot. Small tears occur, which leads to inflammation, pain, and swelling. This can be caused by shoes that don’t fit well or don’t support the foot, flat feet (pes planus), high arches (pes cavus), spending excessive amounts of time on the feet, carrying heavy weight, or having tight calf muscles and Achilles tendons. Rolling the bottom of your foot on a ball, using ice, massaging, and stretching may help to decrease the symptoms of plantar fasciitis; strengthening your feet and legs can prevent its recurrence (see exercise tips below).

Flat feet - ottawa massage bloginversion - ottawa massage blogHigh arch - ottawa massage blog




Left and middle: pes planus; Right: pes cavus

  • Morton’s neuroma – Swelling of a nerve, normally around the 3rd and 4th metatarsals (toe bones) in the foot. Symptoms include pain, a burning sensation, numbness, and a feeling like a small rock is pushing into that part of the foot. This condition is normally caused by wearing tight shoes, high heeled shoes, and shoes with a tight toe box. The best treatment is wearing shoes that give the foot room and space for the metatarsals to separate. This will allow the nerve time to heal. Orthotics and a corticosteroid injection could be indicated over time if the condition doesn’t heal. Massage therapy can also be used to create space by decreasing muscle tension in the muscles of the foot, as well as decreasing pain.
  • Tight Calf Muscles – Many occupations require people to stand for long periods during the day. Wearing proper fitting and comfortable shoes can help with discomfort, but muscle tension can still accumulate, causing lower leg tightness and pain. Stretching, self massage, and getting a professional therapeutic massage can lengthen muscles in the lower leg and allow the leg muscles to support the body in the healthiest way.

The importance of self-care

Receiving a massage treatment is a great way to care for your body and decrease pain. However, an hour a week (or however often you and your therapist decide is most beneficial) may not be enough, considering our legs and feet carry us everywhere during the day. Allowing yourself to stretch and strengthen your body is the best way to prevent injury from happening and muscle tension from accumulating to the point where pain occurs.

What you can do to help your body

Wear proper fitting shoes (go shoe shopping in the late afternoon, as feet swell through the day)

Shoes with a wider toe box will give your toes more room to move naturally.

Runner's stretch - Ottawa massage blog

Modified Runner's stretch -Ottawa massage blogStretch the gastrocnemius and soleus, the muscles that make up the calves. Additionally, rolling your calves on a ball before stretching can help release adhesions (knots) and make your stretch more effective, as can using a heating pad, hot bath, or self-massage.

Roll a ball on the bottom of the feet to lengthen the plantar fascia, and massage the foot at home. Some people find temporary pain relief and decreased inflammation by rolling their feet on a frozen bottle of water.

Towel Scrunch - Ottawa massage blogStrengthen the plantar fascia and create a more supportive arch by doing exercises such as using your toes to pull a towel towards you while seated in a chair, or doing balance exercises with a stair or board supporting your toes and the ball of your foot.

Make an appointment to see a pedorthist when orthotics are needed to give cushioning, provide support, or correct a mechanical abnormality of the feet.

Look at your feet! This is the easiest thing to do and may seem silly but many people don’t make it a habit to inspect their own feet for cuts, scrapes, blisters, or calluses. Also, check your nails for abnormalities. If you can’t see the bottom of your feet for any reason, get a friend or family member to inspect your feet to make sure there aren’t any unknown abrasions.

If you have diabetes, it’s very important to take extra care of your feet to prevent more serious health issues from occurring. Have a specialist cut your nails, and be sure to get tested for diabetic neuropathy.

There is much more you can do to strengthen and care for your feet so they will support you through a lifetime of healthy and comfortable movement. The books Whole Body Barefoot, by Katy Bowman, and The Roll Model, by Jill Miller (originator of the Yoga Tune Up line of products), both have suggestions for simple exercises to keep your feet limber and strong.

Your massage therapist will be happy to assess and treat your foot pain, and will work with you to develop a treatment and self-care plan that fits your needs.


Photos courtesy of Body Poets archives.

Morton’s Neuroma. (2012). Retrieved from OrthoInfo: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00158
Plantar Fasciitis – Topic Overview. (2005-2017). Retrieved from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/tc/plantar-fasciitis-topic-overview#1

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