There are many reasons to use massage to increase the circulation in the feet, including relaxation and to enhance treatment of a variety of medical conditions. You can perform foot massage on yourself or another person. Although it is certainly possible to achieve increased circulation without using any lubrication, it is often more comfortable on the skin to use a good massage oil or lotion to enable maximum glide across the skin's surface, which will facilitate fluid movement.
Review the medical history of the recipient to verify that massage of the extremities is medically safe and not contraindicated by any skin conditions or a compromised circulatory system that will not permit normal fluid movement. If there is any doubt, discuss your planned treatment with the recipient's physician before proceeding with the massage. Help the recipient establish some parameters for measuring improved circulation, even if only subjective, so that you will be able to determine whether the massage techniques used are effective. Consider factors such as sensation of increased warmth, skin color, fluid retention or other professional assessment in developing the measurement parameters and review them at regular intervals.
Briefly soak the feet in a cleansing foot bath to be sure that you will not spread any bacterial or viral elements to other parts of the recipient's body or to your hands. This serves the dual purpose of disinfecting and relaxing the area. After the soak, place the foot in a position that is comfortable for the recipient to maintain and for you to perform the massage work. Keep all your oils or lotions nearby so that you will not have to interrupt the session to retrieve them.
Use the broad surfaces of your palms to gently warm the foot tissue with friction and also to spread the lubricant where it will be needed. Stroke from the toes toward the ankle with gentle pressure if there is no swelling, or edema, that would preclude this. Alternate long strokes that cover the entire area with shorter, circular strokes. Keep as much of the surface of your hand in contact with the recipient's foot as possible. Vary the speed of the massage to permit you to cover the area fully without rough handling, which will cause the muscles to tighten and restrict circulation.
Focus on any areas that are particularly tight or painful by using more direct pressure on specific points or using your fingertips to administer friction in very small circles in that spot. Do not apply pressure in areas where the massage is causing a severe increase in the pain level, such as directly above a heel spur. Use less oil or lotion for specific work, to better allow you to control the pressure and direction of any strokes you are using.
Finish by resuming the broad strokes using the palm or side of your hand, starting a few inches below the ankle and working up to just above the ankle. After completing these strokes in a circle around the entire leg, reposition your hands a few inches further below the ankle and stroke this new area plus the same area previously covered. Continue to work your way down the foot, adding an extra few inches of area with each successive circle. This overlapping effect has been proven to be very effective in facilitating lymph flow, according to Cathy Ulrich of the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals organization. Complete the foot massage with a final circle of strokes that begin at the tip of the toe area and continue to just above the ankle.
Since the foot is so far removed from the heart and major lymph ducts, it is ideal to increase the circulation throughout the whole area between these points for best results. Securely position the recipient's leg at the knee using pillows or long towels so that you will have both hands free to perform the massage and clear access to the foot. A typical session of foot massage should last approximately 15 to 30 minutes for both feet and include stimulation of both the larger surface areas and the small, more specific points.
Do a patch test on a small area by the ankle to check for any allergies to the oil or lotion you will be using. Never massage over open wounds, skin rashes, or other raw areas. Use massage in cases of fluid retention or swelling only as recommended by an attending physician. Remember that diabetes or other illnesses or medications may cause the recipient's circulatory system to be unable to tolerate massage pressure or additional circulatory flow.