For self-care, try these 3 hot and cold foot care techniques


As massage therapists, much like our clients, we often focus more on some of our other aches and pains from our daily activities without thinking too much about the base of our physical home: our feet.

We stand on them for most of the day during our sessions and although they can get tired, other parts of our physiology complain a little louder to demand our attention.

There is something to be said for starting from scratch when it comes to taking care of our foundation; Our Feet. Before discussing specific methods of using hot and cold applications for our feet, we need to understand some basic physiological effects of using hot and cold therapies.

Although effects may vary, the following general principles apply to all hot and cold therapy applications:

The greater the temperature difference between the treated tissues and the hydro-agent, the greater the therapeutic effect of the application.

The effects of an application depend on many variables:

• Temperature of the chosen application

• Duration of use of the application

• The depth of fatty tissue in the area of ​​application

• The depth of the barrier between the fabric and the application

• The chosen application

We also need to understand the different stages and signs and symptoms of tissue repair to better assess which application of hydrotherapy will be most beneficial.

Acute stage may include signs of inflammation: warmth, swelling or edema, redness, pain and dysfunction. There is likely tissue damage, ischemia, and possibly muscle spasms. The goal is to help reduce and minimize tissue damage (in most cases there are situations where the goal is to recreate tissue damage in an effort to improve restoration.)

Subacute stage may still show signs of inflammation, but they are no longer increasing. The goal is to maximize restoration of normal tissue, reduce symptomatic experience, and initiate gentle movement.

Chronic stage may include pain and dysfunction, but warmth and redness are no longer present and swelling may decrease or is no longer present. It is common to rebound from the acute stage to the chronic stage, depending on the situation.

Heat for foot care

Thermotherapy is defined as a therapeutic application using a thermal agent whose temperature is higher than the temperature of the targeted tissue area.

The goals of using heat application are to increase tissue temperature, increase local metabolism, increase local circulation, soften connective tissue, and decrease trigger point activity. trigger.

Using heat applications can also decrease pain and decrease muscle spasms. It can also promote overall relaxation. The incorporation of heat can also increase inflammation. If there is already inflammation present, adding more heat can intensify the inflammation, so be aware that this can happen if you choose a heat application.

Cold for foot care

Cryotherapy is defined as the use of the application of cold for therapeutic purposes in the treatment of disease or injury. Cryotherapy superficially draws heat from the body by lowering the temperature of the targeted area.

In doing so, it can act as an analgesic, decreasing pain, muscle spasms and local cellular metabolism. It also increases tissue stiffness. Depending on the duration as well as other variables, cryotherapy can increase or decrease local circulation

It is important to understand what to expect regarding the progression of sensations associated with cryotherapy so that tissue damage such as frostbite is not created. The response steps during cold applications are as follows:

Cold – The first sensation that the client perceives is the almost immediate sensation of freshness evolving into an uncomfortable feeling of cold.

Burning – The client will feel the cold sensation turn into an almost burning sensation. This step usually takes about 3 minutes.

Sore – The third stage is the deepening of the cold, which actually seems to hurt.

Numbness – Eventually, the treated area becomes progressively numb (almost analgesic).

When the reaction reaches numbness, cryotherapy should be discontinued so as not to cause tissue damage such as frostbite. It is important to note that the RICE method that many of us learned for wounds has been updated to other more effective methods for treating injured tissue.

Contrast therapy

What happens when you alternate hot and cold applications? It promotes a type of vascular exercise causing alternate constriction and dilation of local blood vessels, thereby stimulating an increase in local circulation. Contrast therapy can therefore be a very effective tool during the subacute and chronic phases of healing.

Now that we have a fundamental understanding of the purpose and effects of hot and cold applications, we can better determine what will be most appropriate to use in a given situation.

Next, let’s talk about some simple ways to treat general fatigue and even minimize some of the chronic foot pain complaints that massage therapists have by using hot and cold applications for self-care.

Hot soak

Whether you have an actual foot spa or a makeshift soaking machine, soaking your feet in a warm, soapy bath can feel like you’re bathing all day. Supplement it with your favorite additives such as aromatherapy and the day becomes less stressful.

Frozen water bottle

When you’ve been on your feet all day, maybe longer than usual, and your foundation is sore and sore, a bottle of frozen water may be the trick to reducing inflammation. It can also be helpful for those who may have plantar fasciitis or even pain from wearing the wrong shoes.


If you’re feeling brave or need a quick pick-me-up, nothing will get the job done faster than dipping your feet in cool water! Remember that the greater the temperature change, the greater the therapeutic effect. Why not try a little contrast hydrotherapy?

Start with a 10 minute hot soak followed by a five minute cool dip for your feet.

Alternating three to five times can also increase local circulation and decrease local edema. Add a little plantar flexion and dorsiflexion during the soak and you can really reduce the edema surrounding the joints.

Know that the lymphatic system does not have its own pump like the circulatory system. The lymphatic system depends on muscle contraction and breathing to move. Adding painless joint movements such as plantarflexion and dorsiflexion can reduce edema.

Angela Reiter

About the Author

Angela Reiter, LMT, BCTMB, has been a massage therapist since 1994 and graduated from the Chicago School of Massage Therapy. She currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona where she also has a thriving private practice that includes service to the public as well as continuing education for licensed massage therapists. She was appointed to and currently serves as the President of the Arizona State Board of Massage Therapy.


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