Good news for women around menopause who experience poor quality sleep and increased anxiety: A new study published today in Menopause shows that foot massages can help alleviate those disruptive symptoms.
Menopausal Transition Brings Physical Challenges
As women approach and go through menopause, the decrease in estrogen can cause a number of challenges: hot flashes; insomnia, night sweats, and other sleep disruptions; sexual dysfunction; and vaginal dryness.
Hormonal Flux Impacts Mood, Sleep Problems Contribute to Fatigue
At the same time, mood changes may occur, notes the North American Menopause Society, putting midlife women at risk for issues such as anxiety, depression, and mood swings. Because of the sleep issues and the night sweats, brain fog and fatigue can become a symptom as well.
Foot Massages Promotes Relaxation, Improves Sleep
A review published in 2020 in JAN (Journal of Advanced Nursing) found that “foot reflexology produced significant improvements in sleep disturbances.” For some time, studies have suggested that massage helps relieve chronic pain such as arthritis pain. This new, 2022 study looked at menopausal women in particular to assess foot massages effect on sleep, anxiety, and fatigue.
The study was conducted with 70 postmenopausal women in a village in Northern Turkey. The group was split in half, with the participants randomly assigned to an experimental and a control group. The experimental group was given a 20-minute foot massage (10 minutes on each foot) once every day for a complete week by the same researcher. The control group received no intervention. Result: The experimental group improved in fatigue and anxiety and reported to sleeping an hour more a night than those in the control group.
Incorporate Massage and Reflexology Into Women’s Care
The researchers recommend using foot massage as “an alternative treatment method in addition to pharmacological methods in the treatment of complaints, such as anxiety, fatigue, and sleep disorders, which are common in menopause. Furthermore, it is recommended that nurses and midwives who provide care for postmenopausal women integrate foot massage into the care they offer by taking advantage of appropriate training programs involving foot massage.”
Sample Size Was Small, yet Results Are Significant
Christopher Winter, MD, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine in Virginia, pointed out that the sample in this study was made up of a relatively small group. “But setting that aside, if I get a group of people who feel like they are sleeping more than another group, that is pretty meaningful. Since this data was taken by self-report, it may not be about sleeping more but experiencing it in deeper way, which is very significant.” Dr. Winter was not part of the study.
Maybe All Types of Massage Can Help
Winter, who is also the author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It, commented that any kind of massage before bedtime is probably helpful, “Looking at women in midlife, I would think having your feet, shoulders, or head massaged before sleep is probably very relaxing.”
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Learn to Self-Massage
The masseuse in the study used thumb pressure application, swiping, patting, rubbing, and squeezing movements. Further study needs to be made on the difference in result between self-massage and having a masseuse. Part of the beneficial effects may be from just having someone take care of you. However, if you want to try to massage yourself or have a partner learn how to do it more efficaciously, Massage Therapy, the website of Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals, provides instruction on five methods:
- Ankle circling: Rotate your foot at the ankle.
- Sole rubs: Rub the bottoms of your feet from toe to heel in firm strokes.
- Toe stretches: Stretch the toes back and with the other hand, gently slap the sole with open hand or closed fist.
- T-shape fan: Press thumbs into the bottom of your heel, press upwards, and then fan outwards as you reach the toes.
- Thumb circling: Knead your soles with circling motions of your thumb.
An Easy, Hormone-Free Intervention Worth Trying
"Sleep disturbances, fatigue, and anxiety symptoms are common during menopause. This small study in Turkish women shows how a simple, inexpensive intervention such as foot massage can improve these bothersome symptoms in postmenopausal women. Although additional study is needed to confirm these findings in other populations of postmenopausal women, there is little downside to recommending foot massage as a nonhormone option to help relieve symptoms," said Stephanie Faubion, MD, North American Menopause Society medical director, in a press release.