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Give Your Hands and Feet a Treat: Self-Massage

Updated: Jun 26, 2023


Hand, wrist and arm massage for hand, wrist and arm pain including carpal tunnel

I am running a workshop at the Everywoman Festival at Insole Court, Cardiff this year, which is very exciting. I am a firm believer that my clients should be given the tools they need to help manage their own health, wellness and to help prevent injury. This can take the form of stretches, rehab exercise and lifestyle advice such as how to manage sitting at a desk, long drives or what to do if you've overdone it in the gym. Self-massage is a fantastic technique in someone's self-care toolkit. It can not only be used to help manage specific problem areas, but is a great way of relaxing, de-stressing and showing yourself some love.

foot, ankle and leg massage for foot, ankle and leg pain

In this post I will run through how to massage your own hands and feet, but self-massage can be applied in any area of as long as it is comfortable, you use the right massage medium and that it is not contraindicated. If in doubt, always check with your healthcare provider.


Benefits of Self-massage

Pain relief

Relieves tension and tightness

Increases flexibility and mobility

Increases blood flow to the area which can aid healing

Relaxing, can reduce stress

Gives you control over your condition

Can help prevent recurrence of pain or reduced mobility


Contraindications to Massage

Conditions that cause you to bruise easily

Anticoagulant medication or blood thinners

Open wounds, cuts, bruises, burns or recent surgical site

Areas of thin or fragile skin

Infectious conditions

Broken bones

If you have a fever or feeling ill

A previous bad reaction to massage therapy

At risk of blood clots, deep vein thrombosis or over areas with varicose veins

(This list is not an exhaustive one, do check with your healthcare provider if you are unsure).


Which massage lotion to use?

There are many massage lotions, hand or foot creams and oils available to buy, however there are plenty of mediums you can use that are commonly found in the house, are safe, cheap and effective. As a general rule, if it is safe for you to eat, you can use it for massaging your hands and feet. Remember that oils can be messy and can be difficult to wash out of clothing, so take care when using them. Some oils are not suitable for those with nut allergies.


Examples:

Olive oil

Sunflower oil

Rapeseed oil

Coconut oil or butter

Shea butter

Almond oil


Hand Massage Routine

1. Warm up - rub hands together

This gets you in the frame of mind for a massage, helps you centre your attention and to bring some heat and increased blood supply to the area.


2. Wrist circles

Gently roll your wrists in one direction, and then the other. Wrists are over-used and often forgotten areas of the body so be mindful of any areas of restriction.


3. Finger circles

Grab the tip of a finger and move your fingers in circles in one direction, and then the other. This is a great way of gently mobilising the delicate joints at the base of each finger.


4. Finger pulls

Once you have circled the finger as above, give it a little tug. This allows a little space in the finger joint spaces.


5. Massage lotion on

Rub whichever medium of massage oil, cream or lotion you are using, into both hands front and back. If your hands are dry, you may find it gets absorbed quite quickly, so reapply as often as needed. You want enough to reduce friction but not so much that your hands are drowned in it (this makes it too slippery to get a good grip).


6. Circles around palm

Focussing on one hand, using your thumb, make small circles into the palm of the hand, working your way clockwise from the pad of the thumb (thenar eminence), around over the pads at the base of each finger, down the pad of the fifth finger (hypothenar eminence) and across the base of your palm back to the start. You get to control the pressure and the pace, pausing over areas of tightness and only working to a level that is comfortable. If it hurts, stop and reassess.


7. Base of thumb pad - stripping & sore points

Starting at the wrist at the base of the pad of your thumb (thenar eminence) use your thumb to strip up through the muscles towards to base of your thumb. If you find any tender spots, then hold a comfortable pressure over them (this is often a tender area as we use our thumbs for so many things).


8. Base of 5th finger - stripping & sore points

Repeat as step 7 but working from the wrist up the pad below the fifth finger (hypothenar eminence).


9. Massage along each finger

Making small circles with your thumb, work along each finger in turn.


10. Grab finger & twist

With your whole hand, grab each finger in turn and gently twist.


11. Massage wrists

Using your thumb or fingers, gently massage around your wrist in both direction concentrating on any tender areas.


12. Repeat 6-11 other hand


Foot Massage Routine

1. Warm up - rub foot

As above, this helps warm up the foot, increases blood supply and focusses you mindfully on the massage.


2. Ankle circle

Rotate both ankles in one direction, then repeat in the other. This helps mobilise your ankle joint.


3. Toe pulls

Gently pull on each toe in turn, this helps give a little space in the toe joints.


4. Wringing feet & squeezes

Grabbing your foot with both hands, twist in opposite directions as if wringing out a dishcloth. This mobilises the joints in the centre of the foot and starts to stretch and mobilise the tough fascia that forms the base of the foot (plantar fascia).


5. Massage lotion on

If your feet are dry, then reapply more massage medium as required.


6. Circles around soles

As with the hand massage, use a thumb to make small circles around the sole of the foot working in a clockwise direction from the heel, along the edge of the foot, across the ball of the foot and down the other edge.


7. Stripping through arch (heel to toes)

Using a thumb and starting at the heel, strip through the arch of the foot. This can be a particularly tender area of the foot so go gently and pause on any particularly tight areas.


8. Stripping through edge of foot

Repeat as 6. but through the outer edge of the foot from the heel to the base of the fifth toe.


9. Massage across ball of foot

Using a thumb, make small circles across the ball of the foot, paying particular attention to the base of the big toe as this area takes a lot of pressure during standing and walking.


10. Grab each toe & twist

With your thumb and finger, grab each toe and give it a wiggle or twist, this helps mobilise the toe joints.


11. Massage ankles

Using a thumb, or your whole hand, massage around your ankles. At the back of your heel is your achilles tendon which can get tight and tender, and around the bony lumps on the inner and outer ankle (medial and lateral malleolus). Be a little careful around the ankle area if you a pregnant (less than 37 weeks - see information below).


12. Repeat 1-11 other foot


Reflexology and Acupressure points


It is worth noting that even though the above routines are focussed on the muscles, tendons and joints of the hands and feet, and using massage as a way of providing relief and relaxation, we need to recognise that we are also working across acupressure points

used in reflexology. If you are pregnant and are worried about self massage then always consult a healthcare professional. Generally massage is incredibly safe throughout pregnancy and the above routines do not and should not use focussed and prolonged pressure in any particularly area. Avoid the high inside ankle (about a hands width up from your ankle - SP6), a pressure point behind the bony part on the outside ankle (lateral malleolus - BL60) and another point on the outside edge of your fifth toe (BL67). On the hand, there is an acupressure point on the back of the hand, between your thumb and second finger to be avoided (LI4) (Carr, 2015).


Reflexology chart of the feet

I hope you enjoy making self-massage of the hands and feet a part of your everyday self-care routine. Each time you wash your hands, or apply hand cream or foot cream, why not take an extra minute or two to mindfully massage these workhorses and often forgotten areas of the body.


Edit: I had some fantastic questions during the workshop so I thought it would be helpful to add them here.


Do you have to do one hand in it's entirety before moving on the other? No, you can chop and change hands throughout the routine. It is your massage so if you prefer to do one step on both hands then go for it! The benefit of the hand massage is you have cream on both hands at the same time, so swapping from one hand to the other is easier and it gives the hand doing the massage a rest. It is harder to swap between feet but not impossible!


If you have a hand condition which makes self-massage harder to do, are there any tools you can use instead of your own thumb/fingers? Yes, there are various massage tools you can purchase affordably, which have a smooth knobbly surface which can be used as a replacement for your own thumb/fingers. You can even use household items for self-massage. For example, the smooth end of a wooden spoon (check for sharp areas or splinters) is great for both hand and foot massage. A rolling pin (or a frozen water bottle if you're also looking for the benefits of icing a sore area) is a great household tool you can roll the arches of your feet over! Make sure any tool you use is smooth, has a small amount of massage medium on to prevent friction and that you have good control over it so it doesn't slip around too much. As always, only use a pressure that is comfortable; if it hurts, stop and reassess. If you are using self-massage to manage inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, then cooling down the area after a massage in a pot of cool water or applying an icepack wrapped in a t-towel for 5 minutes, is recommended. Please feel free get in touch for more information on how massage can help manage conditions affecting the hands and feet.

Thank you to everybody who attended, for your wonderful participation and questions!





References


Carr, DJ. (2015). The safety of obstetric acupuncture: forbidden points revisited. Acupuncture in Medicine 33(5) pp. 413-419 [Online]. Available at: untitled (nih.gov) (Accessed 22.6.23).







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