A Foot massage activates pressure points in order to stimulate certain bodily functions as well as to relieve stress and anxiety. These benefits could clearly be beneficial to pregnant mothers.
However, massage techniques, especially foot massages have long been attributed with negative side effects in pregnant women and is therefore generally not performed.
While the benefits are clear, whether or not there are actual risks involved relies on evidence based research rather than scientific research.
Benefits of a Foot Massage for Pregnant Mothers
- Relieves stress and anxiety.
- Alleviates nausea associated with pregnancy .
- May reduce pain and swelling associated with increased water retention during pregnancy (edema).
- Relief from physical discomfort often associated with pregnancy.
The most common reason for women to seek massage during pregnancy is to relieve the physical discomfort that they experience as a result of being pregnant:
Potential Risks of a Foot Massage During Pregnancy
1. Spontaneous Abortion (Miscarriage)
There has long been the belief that a foot massage can stimulate contractions of the uterus resulting in early labor or spontaneous abortion. This may be the result of hormones that are released during massage triggering contractions in the mother.
Fact or Fiction?
There is currently no scientific evidence to support the claim that a foot massage can result in miscarriage. Research conducted into these claims has shown that mothers who have received a foot massage are at no greater risk of miscarriage than women who have not received a foot massage.
Most miscarriages occur in the first trimester of pregnancy. The effects of hormones that may or may not be released during a foot massage are not associated with these miscarriages.
Miscarriages in the second and third trimester are far more rare and mostly attributed to maternal health conditions or trauma. There is little evidence to support the claim that a foot massage can result in a miscarriage later in pregnancy
2. Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, occurs when a clot forms in the vascular system, usually in the lower legs. This condition can be as a result of excessive water retention resulting in poor blood circulation. It is believed that a foot massage can release this clot which can then pass through the veins and into the heart resulting in a cardiac infarction (heart attack). If the blood clot reaches the brain, it can result in stroke.
Fact or Fiction?
Deep vein thrombosis is an extremely serious condition and a clot or multiple clots in the vessels in the legs can be released easily for any number of reasons. Foot massages can therefore release a blood clot that can result in heart attack or stroke.
If there is any concern that a DVT has developed during pregnancy (or at any other time) it is highly recommended to avoid massage altogether, especially foot, ankle or leg massage. It is critical to consult a doctor as soon as possible to diagnose the condition and provide treatment. Medication can be provided to break-down blood clots and resolve deep vein thrombosis.
3. Pitted Oedema (Edema)
Edema is swelling in the legs and feet usually as a result of increased fluid retention and is common during pregnancy. However, excessive fluid retention can compromise circulation to the lower extremities resulting in the formation of clots or DVT.
While a foot massage can help alleviate edema and improve circulation, if a clot does exist, it can release the clot which can have serious consequences. Pitted edema is recognizable when pressure is applied to the swollen area and a “pit” remains after the pressure is released.
Fact or Fiction
It is recommended to seek medical attention or consult a doctor immediately if pitted edema occurs. It is not recommended to have a foot massage if pitted edema is suspected.
Ways to Lower the Risks Associated With Foot Massages During Pregnancy
While there are risks associated with foot massages, there are also precautions that can be taken to reduce these risks.
Only allow a trained, qualified and experienced massage therapist to perform prenatal foot or other types of massage. These professionals are trained to recognize the risks involved and take steps to avoid them.
Avoid massage to the following pressure points on the foot and ankle:
- Urinary Bladder 67: Located on the corner of the baby toe, this pressure point is commonly used to stimulate labor and move the baby into position for delivery. This is a good pressure point to stimulate for women who have passed their due date.
- Urinary Bladder 60: This pressure point is located at the back of the ankle between the bone and Achilles tendon. The pressure point is commonly stimulated to assist in pain relief during labor and should be avoided during a foot massage.
- SP6 Acupressure Point: This pressure point provides stimulation to the lower stomach (abdomen). This stimulation is not recommended for pregnant women. It is located above the bone on the inside of the ankle.
It is imperative to choose a massage therapist who is aware of where these pressure points are located and how to avoid them.
Deep tissue massage is not recommended during pregnancy. Gentler massage techniques can provide relaxation benefits and alleviate discomfort associated with pregnancy without releasing toxins buried deep in the tissues or hormones that could stimulate contractions, early labor or result in spontaneous abortion.
It is also recommended to consult with a doctor before going for foot or other massage during pregnancy. This will provide the practitioner with the opportunity to detect and diagnose DVT or pitted edema that are considered to be high risk factors for massage. A medical practitioner will also be able to assist in weighing up the benefits vs. the risks associated with foot massages for pregnant women.
If the risks are considered to be greater than the benefit, it is not recommended to go for a foot massage while pregnant.
While there are clear risks associated with foot massages during pregnancy, the therapy is largely considered to be safe. However, it is critical to take precautions to reduce or even avoid the above-mentioned risks. Never allow an untrained person to perform a foot massage and be aware of recognize the symptoms of pitted edema and DVT.