Is It Safe to Have a Foot Massage During Pregnancy?

Updated: September 20, 2021
Keen to find new ways to rest and unwind during your pregnancy? Here we cover the safety aspects of having a foot massage, along with the benefits and some tips for carrying out an effective foot massage.
Pregnant Foot Massage
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When you're pregnant, you feel like everything is getting bigger, including your feet. Swollen, achy feet are common for pregnant women, especially during the third trimester. That's when it's almost game time and your body is certainly feeling all the changes of the past few months!

More: Lower Back Pain During Pregnancy

All of the aches and pains may have you craving a prenatal massage, especially a foot massage. But, like anything else when you're expecting, you're probably wondering if it's safe.

There are some potential risks involved if you're getting a foot massage during pregnancy as well as some of the areas of the foot you'll want your massage therapist to avoid. But, there are also some relaxing benefits for pregnant women if their doctors give the green light to a foot massage.

Why do my feet hurt so much when I'm pregnant?

Whether you spend a lot of time on your feet or not, you're likely to have foot pain through various trimesters of your pregnancy.

Dr. Rock Positano, Voluntary Podiatrist in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital, explains that during pregnancy, the feet and lower extremities undergo some huge structural and functional changes. The hormone relaxin that is produced in the first trimester helps to prepare the pelvic structures to facilitate childbearing, but relaxin levels decline as a woman gets further along in her pregnancy.

"Relaxin can also make the numerous muscles, tendons, and ligaments more sensitive to weight-bearing and standing often resulting in foot fatigue and pain," says Positano.

Since every woman's pregnancy is going to be different, some women will experience greater foot pain than others.

Risks of Foot Massage During Pregnancy

Many pregnant women want relief from their aching feet and may opt for a foot massage during pregnancy. If you fall into this category, your first instinct may be to get a pedicure massage because you can also get your toenails clipped and painted in the same visit. But, many doctors don't recommend a pedicure massage because they are typically not done by a licensed massage therapist who has studied the anatomy of the foot and is familiar with pressure points and other massaging techniques specific to pregnant women.

You should talk to your doctor before getting any type of massage while pregnant, especially a foot massage. According to the American Pregnancy Association, prenatal massage is generally safe during all trimesters. But, many places will not accept a woman for massage until after her first trimester when the risk of miscarriage is typically less.

If you have a history of blood clots in your legs or deep vein thrombosis, your doctor will likely not recommend any foot massages while pregnant.

Positano says that the area of the heel, arch, and forefoot are the best suited for massage therapy. If there are musculoskeletal issues like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, or neuroma, extra care should be taken and an even softer massage touch is recommended. The Achilles tendon and the area under the big toe are more sensitive than others because the blood supply to the Achilles is reduced and the area under the big toe has many structures in a small space.

"Deep massage should be avoided in these areas as well as the calf muscles which are prone to developing blood clots due to blood change volume often accompanying pregnancy," says Positano.

He explains that if a blood clot is in the calf, heel, or other structures, the massage can dislodge the clot and make it travel to other locations.

Other risks of a foot massage during pregnancy include:

  • Damage to the soft structures of the foot
  • Stress fractures to the bone of the foot due to osteoporosis or blunt trauma from the massage

You also want to avoid any vigorous massage. Positano says this can cause inflammation and pain in the heel and forefoot areas. Always talk to your healthcare provider before getting any type of massage while pregnant to avoid these situations. You don't want to do something to hurt the baby or yourself during this important stage.

Areas of the Foot that Pregnant Women Should Avoid During Massage

It's important to see a massage therapist for a foot massage while pregnant because they should be aware of acupressure points to avoid that can induce labor. They will know how to avoid these areas while still giving you a relaxing foot massage.

These acupressure points are:

Spleen 6 (SP6 acupressure point)

The SP6 acupressure point is located on the inner ankle. It's believed that a massage here can stimulate the lower abdomen and bring on uterine contractions.

Urinary Bladder 60

This is the spot behind the ankle bone on the outside of the leg. It can be found between the Achilles tendon and the ankle bone. While massage here can be used during labor to give relief, it is also believed to promote labor.

Urinary Bladder 67

This is located on the corner of the pinky toe near the toenail. Massage here is said to bring contractions.

Be sure to voice any concerns to your massage therapist about hitting any of these pressure points during your foot massage. Also, talk to your doctor about your massage concerns. They will advise you whether the benefits outweigh any risks in your particular situation.

Benefits of Foot Massage During Pregnancy

While there are some risks involved with a foot massage during pregnancy, there are also many wellness benefits. Massage therapy can help to reduce muscle tension in the bottom of the foot as long as it's not too vigorous. Massage can also help to stimulate soft tissues which reduce the fluid in swollen joints.

Other benefits of foot massage during pregnancy include:

Reduced depression and anxiety

One study found that pregnant women who received massage therapy for 20 minutes a week had less leg and back pain and less depression and anxiety. Lower back pain is a common issue that many pregnant women face along with leg and foot pains.

Shortened Labor

The same study found that pregnant women who got massaged were in labor 3 hours less and needed less pain medication. Who doesn't want to spend less time in labor?

Less Stress

Massage helps to lower cortisol which causes stress in the body.

While these benefits of massage may have you looking towards your partner to grab the massage oil, it's really best to save the massages for the professionals. They know the safest massage techniques that will safely make you feel good.

The Takeaway

When it comes to getting a massage during pregnancy, it's important to be aware of several risks involved. Not every woman will face the same risks, that's why it's important to talk to your doctor to see if a foot massage is right for you.

There are many acupressure points in the foot that you want to avoid because they can stir uterine contractions when you don't want them to. Despite the risks, there are benefits to getting a prenatal massage if your healthcare provider allows it. Less stress, anxiety, and depression are just a few of the benefits of massage that pregnant women can enjoy.

Remember, taking care of yourself while you're pregnant can help you and your baby stay healthy during your pregnancy. Always talk to your doctor to determine what's best for you and your body.