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Techniques for Foot Massage

Updated on October 5, 2010

Getting a Foothold . . .

Our feet take a daily beating. They bear our full body weight every time we stand and with each step we take, and they put up with things like poor footwear, improper body mechanics, and hard walking surfaces. It's clear that they deserve a little TLC now and then.

Foot massage can be done for relief or relaxation, for love, for fun, or just because! Grab someone's foot and start rubbing today! : )

Anatomy of the Foot

  • Toes - we usually have five on each foot. They are small and have one joint in the toe itself, and one joint attaching it to the foot. Be careful with the toes, they are delicate.
  • Ball - the pad on the bottom of the foot, just before the toes. It's the meatiest part of the foot. It has some flexibility.
  • Arch - the support system of the foot, almost like a tension bridge. This can be a sensitive area, prone to stress and inflammation. Be careful when beginning to massage this part, and get feedback.
  • Heel - the bony end of the foot, it takes a lot of impact while walking. Gentle massage is indicated, since there is little muscle here.
  • Ankle - the joint that attaches the foot to the leg. There are bony prominences on each side, which are very delicate and prone to bruising. It is surrounded by ligaments and tendons.

Hand Placement

When seated, the foot should come to about your chest level.  It's easy to grasp from here with the fingers on the top of the foot, and the thumbs on the sole.
When seated, the foot should come to about your chest level. It's easy to grasp from here with the fingers on the top of the foot, and the thumbs on the sole.
Make circles across the ball of the foot with your thumb.
Make circles across the ball of the foot with your thumb.
Use your thumb to apply pressure in an upwards stroke in the arch of the foot.
Use your thumb to apply pressure in an upwards stroke in the arch of the foot.
Glide your hands down the back of the heel, gently squeezing.
Glide your hands down the back of the heel, gently squeezing.
Attend to each toe - be gentle and don't pull too hard.
Attend to each toe - be gentle and don't pull too hard.
Make small circles around the ankle on both sides.  Do this symmetrically.   A special thanks to my husband for donating his feet for the photos!
Make small circles around the ankle on both sides. Do this symmetrically. A special thanks to my husband for donating his feet for the photos!

Basic Technique

  • Wash your hands. Ask the recipient to wash and dry their feet.
  • Place a towel under their feet.
  • Choose a balm or cream. Oil is gooey and lotion absorbs too fast.
  • Begin by sitting facing the soles of their feet. Place your hands such that your fingers are on the top of their foot and your thumbs are on the pad. The first strokes should be firm enough not to tickle, but light enough that they don't hurt. Remember, feet are bony.
    • Travel up and down the foot. Fingertips are going from the base of the toes to the front of the ankle and back, and thumbs are going from pad to arch and back.

  • Now concentrate on the pad of the foot. This area can usually withstand a bit more pressure. Use your thumbs to work in circular motions.
  • The arch of the foot can usually take light-to-moderate pressure. It's an easy area to see. Again, use your thumb to work in circles or an up/down stroke with the emphasis of the pressure on the up.
  • Standing to the side of the foot, grab it with both hands and gently "wring" it out like you would a wet washcloth. Again, fingers should be on the top of the foot and thumbs on the bottom.
  • Coming back to your starting place, gently work between the bones on the top of the foot. There isn't much space in there, but all you have to do is let your fingers glide in the space.
  • Now for the heel - again, circular motions with the thumb. Be sure to get the back of the heel as well by gently lifting the foot, placing the back of the heel in your hand, and letting your hand glide toward you. This makes a nice hand-over-hand technique.
  • The toes will be wanting some attention as well. Again, be gentle. You don't really want to place your whole finger between toes for fear of disjointing or splitting the skin. Simple use the palms of both hands to give them a light rub, and then gently pinch each toe between your index finger and thumb and pull up with a gliding motion.
  • A lovely finishing touch is to work on the sides of the ankle. With one hand on each side, use your fingertips to work small circles around the outside of the bony area.

  • Return to the first stroke technique for the finale. You want to start and finish with the warmth of your hands contacting the foot.

Foot Massage Video

Things to Remember

  • You don't have to follow the outlined steps in that exact order - do what seems comfortable.
  • Be sure to file down your fingernails - even the slightest scratch will detract from your massage!
  • If you stand to give the massage, it will be more natural to place your thumbs on the top of the foot and your fingers on the bottom - be careful with the pressure from your thumbs, it can be very uncomfortable on the bones of the feet.
  • If you are massaging older or "seasoned" feet, you actually might want to use an oil. Older skin is more prone to tearing, and any resistance offered by a cream or lotion may not be a good thing. Oil can provide a safe glide. Don't use too much, or you won't be able to accomplish anything for the slipperiness.
    • Paper-thin skin is especially vulnerable to injury or tearing. If the skin is thin, use gentle pressure techniques instead of gliding strokes.
  • Breaking contact with the foot will take away from the massage. If you have to apply more balm, scratch your nose, or shoo away your cat, be sure to maintain contact with the foot. Even if you simply rest the foot on your forearm, maintaining contact will make your massage more memorable.
  • Everyone's tolerance to pressure is different. Ask frequently throughout the massage, especially when you are moving on to a different part of the foot or are beginning a new technique.

    • Easy signs that the pressure is not right might include: flinching, tightening of the muscles in and around the foot, withdrawing the foot, holding their breath, or giggling.


Foot Massage Lesson by Health-Choices Holistic MassageSchool

Adding the "Extra Touches"

  • Use scented lotions or creams. Try a warming oil.
  • Offer to wash their feet for them before you begin the massage. A foot spa is handy for this, or use a pan of warm water with foot salts or a touch of bubble bath.
  • Include the calf in the massage. Be sure that you always rub up toward the knee. Strokes should fall short of the back of the knee - there are several nerves and veins back there that should be left alone.
    • When working on the lower leg, be sure to also stay away from the shin bone. The muscle tissue lies to the sides of the bone.

  • If using oil, towel off the foot afterward. Don a warm, fuzzy sock or footie to maintain the warmth and comfort.
    • Warm the oil or lotion before applying it to the foot. You can purchase oil or lotion warmers, or just use your hands to create the heat.
  • Trade foot massages! What better way for two people to barter!?

Things to Avoid:

A contraindication is a circumstance under which a medical condition may be worsened by a particular treatment. Below is a lost of contraindications for massage.

There are certain medical conditions that should not be massaged:

  • Fractures - self explanatory. Don't make fractures worse.

  • Sprains - sprains need a certain amount of time to heal before massage should be applied.

  • Dislocations - again, don't make them worse. Joints that are not intact need time to heal, and manipulating the structures around them might make them worse.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis - rheumatoid arthritis is in constant inflammation, and massage can make this worse. There may be stages of RA or certain times or conditions when light massage might be ok, but proceed with care.

  • Severe Neuropathy (contact your MD) - if you can't feel pressure well, massage might be harmful if it's too aggressive and you can't tell.
  • Numbness or tingling (contact your MD) - again, if you can't feel the touch, the pressure, etc., then you can't tell when massage is too aggressive.
  • Plantar Fasciitis - there are varying degrees of this condition. If you have a severe case and are in an inflammatory stage, massage may not help. If it's a new case and is very mild, massage might be helpful. Ask your physician or podiatrist if you have questions.

There are certain medical conditions that you should massage around:

  • Bruises - bruises are tender, and healing. No need to make them more colorful.
  • Calluses - given the hard nature of calluses, direct pressure can be uncomfortable. The same goes for bunions and corns.

  • Varicose Veins (if there are too many, then avoid the massage altogether) - direct pressure to an unstable vein is never a good idea, and can be quite painful.
  • Bunions
  • Corns

Ergonomics in Massage

  • Always keep a straight back while doing body work. If you feel that you are slouching, your shoulders are rounding forward, or a general discomfort throughout your back, you might want to realign.
  • Avoid overextension of any of your joints, all the way down to your wrist and fingers.
  • Hands, and especially thumbs, can get tired during massage. Pace yourself, change positions and techniques frequently, and stop to stretch if you must.
  • Sometimes a sitting stool is really handy for massage. There are some massage techniques that require standing, and others that don't.


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    • profile image

      John Rutarwa 

      5 years ago

      hey Dr was greatfull to discover how to help people with a litle massage . unbelivible but trust one for our future. thanks John

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      8 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      I love foot massage. It´s very relaxing. I sometimes massage my own feet but it´s not the same. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      swedish massage chatswood 

      8 years ago

      Foot massage is one my favorite, so relaxing, nice hub, thanks for making such useful article, i'll recommend this to my fiends.

    • profile image

      chatswood massage 

      8 years ago

      This kind of hubpage is what i've been looking for. Useful and informative. One of my favorite kind of massage is foot massage.

    • profile image

      full body massage chatswood 

      8 years ago

      Awesome hub, nice techniques for foot massage, i bookmarked it for future reference.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I just want to know how and where to find people who would like a foot massage. It's not something you can just come out and ask someone.How would you market something like a mobile foot massage business or just simply find people who would love a foot massage????

    • profile image

      massage business 

      9 years ago

      Great hub, full of loads of great info on foot massage.

    • MrSpock profile image


      9 years ago

      Mr Spock can appreciate foot massage techniques.

    • Papa Sez profile image

      Papa Sez 

      9 years ago from The Philippines to Canada

      Hey Kat, very useful info about foot massage that I linked it to my Valentine's Day hub

      I am a foot massage fan, well after my favorite, which is back rub...better yet a full body massage! Thanks for sharing these info.

    • profile image

      Dr. Feet 

      10 years ago

      This is a well informed hub. And is especially good for those who are looking for the proper technique in giving foot massages.

      We all need a proper foot massage every now and then. Not only is good for your feet. It also relaxes your whole body.

      So keep up with the informative posts!

    • Kat07 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Tampa

      I hope you can find someone to indulge you! You can massage your own feet, but it's just not the same, is it?.

    • JPSO138 profile image


      10 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

      How I love to have a foot massage. i usually spend the whole day standing when I am conducting a training. A foot massage would certainly be great.

    • Kat07 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Tampa

      So true, ladies! I get out my Homedics foot massager on days when Husband does not feel up to the real massage! (Ladies footwear really can be unforgiving, can't it???)

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      11 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      A foot massage is so welcome after standing for hours in a day. :)

    • Isabella Snow profile image

      Isabella Snow 

      11 years ago

      Now I just need to find someone to give me a foot massage. ;)

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      informative hub Kat.

    • Kat07 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Tampa

      I knew that was going to come up here. Truthfully, I'd treat it like a phobia. Here's a website with some tips:

      Try working on her lower legs, then maybe later she'll let you near her ankles, then possibly her heel, and so on. You'll have to have patience and go at her pace. If you force the issue, she'll go back to square one. You'll both have to be on board, as well - it's not something you can sneak upon her. Good luck!

    • syvar profile image


      11 years ago


      So my question is this.. My wife HATES feet. I would love a foot massage, but I don't think it's going to happen in this lifetime (without socks, rubber gloves and extender arms). I on the other hand love feet and would love to give my wife a foot massage. She won't even let me do that because she hates feet so much. Any suggestions?

    • Kat07 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Tampa

      Thanks, everyone! It isn't often anymore that I get to use my massage expertise, this was a wonderful outlet!!!

      G-Ma: The coupon is a great idea! Just in time for Valentine's Day coming up!

    • SanFernando profile image


      11 years ago

      Great Hub - Very informative, good layout and well edited. This hub gets an A+ - Now you are the curve in this class. Good job!

    • funride profile image

      Ricardo Nunes 

      11 years ago from Portugal

      Great hub, very complete with lots of information.

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 

      11 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Very informative and well done my dear...You know that was one of the things i USED to put on a coupon as a gift to my ex. He loved it. and always tried to use the coupon several times. ha ha ha ha..G-Ma :O) hugs

    • C.M. Vanderlinden profile image

      C.M. Vanderlinden 

      11 years ago from Metro Detroit

      Great hub, Kat. I could use one of these right about now...

    • Kat07 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Tampa

      Thanks, Mr. M!!! Val should be able to help you with that! : )

    • MrMarmalade profile image


      11 years ago from Sydney

      I need those feet massages now.

      Thank you a very valuable hub for me.


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