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Talk about taking a couple of workhorses for granted. A survey by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) found that trimming our nails is about as far as most foot-care regimens go. Mostly, says Lori S. Weisenfeld, a sports podiatrist in New York City, “people generally will neglect their feet until they have a problem with them.” Here's how to show them a little more love — or find some relief if they're tired and achy.
This often-misunderstood option on a spa menu is based on the idea that applying pressure to specific points on the feet can improve the functioning of certain organs and glands. Although there are a number of theories about how reflexology works, some research suggests the pain-reducing benefits come from stimulating — either with pressure or massage — identified points on the feet or hands that affect nerve endings and the central nervous system.
While reflexology can feel as heavenly as massage, it's not exactly the same thing. “It isn't just about pampering yourself; it goes more deeply than that,” says board-certified reflexologist Christine Issel, cofounder of the American Reflexology Certification Board. In general, she says, “no tools are used — only the reflexologist's hands applying pressure to various reflexes in the feet. It should be deeply relaxing, not painful.”
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You'll sit in a reclining chair or on a bodywork table while a reflexologist applies gentle pressure to specific areas on the top, bottom and sides of your feet. A 60-minute session costs anywhere from $50 to over $120. Be sure to check the credentials of the practitioner to make sure he or she has been certified by the American Reflexology Certification Board. To find a qualified reflexologist in your area, go to American Reflexology Certification Board (arcb.net) and the Reflexology Association of America (reflexology-usa.org).
Do a few stretches
These easy-to-do stretches help alleviate tension and strengthen the intrinsic muscles in the soles of your feet. Even better: Each one doubles as a DIY foot massage.
- Place a tennis or lacrosse ball on the floor. Starting close to the heel bone, work your way toward the ball of the foot, rolling front to back then side to side and front to back for two and half minutes. Switch to the other foot.
- Stand near a wall with one foot behind the other. Your front knee should be slightly bent and the back knee straight with your heel on the floor. Lean forward gently and hold for 30 seconds to stretch your calf muscle, which in turn will influence the tendons and muscles in your heel. Repeat on the other side.
- From a seated position, use your toes to pick up small objects — marbles, pencils, even a towel — off the floor.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands by your side (yogis will recognize the stance as mountain pose). Keeping your feet flat on the floor, lift and spread all 10 toes. Return to start, and lift your two big toes at once. Also try lifting your other toes in sequence, working up to six times for each toe, suggests Sherry Brourman, a yoga therapist and physical therapist in Santa Monica, CA.
Treat yourself to a pedicure
More than just a way to pretty up your toenails, a pedicure can deliver serious TLC in the form of a foot massage and soothing hot water soak, never mind the exfoliating foot buffing (and yes, men ask for polish-free versions). A few caveats: Find a salon that sterilizes its instruments in an autoclave (it looks something like a small microwave), or purchase your own set, says Weisenfeld. “Ask your pedicurist for suggestions of what to buy,” she says. And during that first appointment, look around to check if the stations are clean, if the nail technician washes her hands between clients and if the spa uses disposable plastic liners to keep the foot bath sanitary.
At home, try soaking tired or achy feet in warm water and Epsom salts. Investing in a foot spa isn't necessary, but one will keep the water warm longer and the whirlpool aspect will have some therapeutic benefits, says Diane Koshimune, a spokesperson for the APMA. To remove rough skin, use a pumice stone, a PedEgg, or an exfoliating scrub in a lukewarm bath once a week. After you've washed and dried your feet, follow immediately with moisturizer.