The many benefits of foot massage include releasing endorphins, lowering heart rate, lowering blood pressure, improving balance, and assisting with mental health problems.
1) Foot Massage Increases Endorphins
It is no secret that endorphins are good for us. Whether through exercise or eating chocolate, endorphins act as happiness hormones, robbing us of pain and discomfort and leaving happiness in their wake (6).
So what does massage have to do with endorphins? Several different studies looked at the specific effects that foot massage had on a variety of patients with a range of conditions. They found a marked increase in the release of endorphins across the board (7,8). This release of endorphins is responsible for some of the effects experienced during foot massage. They include an increased feeling of calmness, a decrease in pain and stress, and assistance with managing anxiety and depression.
Put simply, tissue massage, whether of the feet or otherwise, makes you feel good. Massage activates endorphins which circulate around your body and brain, promoting happiness, muscle relaxation and a decrease in pain (9).
Take Away: Foot massage prompts the release of endorphins, which in turn promote benefits including decreased stress, increased happiness and assisting with pain management and management of some mental health conditions.
2) Foot Massage Activates Parts of the Brain Associated with Reward and Pain Control
One particular study looked at the effect that foot massage had on healthy adults by putting patients under an MRI scanner before the researches performed twenty seconds of massage (10). This study found activation of reward centres in the brain. Interestingly, though both hand and foot massage was used, the reward centres were only activated significantly when foot massage was performed (10). Activation of the reward centres was tied to the participants’ increased feelings of calm and a decrease in reported stress.
Another study noted activation of parts of the cingulate cortex when three different types of massage (Swedish, reflexology based massage and massage with an object) were applied to the foot (11).
The Cingulate cortex is responsible for many things, including pain moderation and the association between external events and memory and emotion (12). Thus, activation in this area of the brain suggests that foot massage may be useful when it comes to modifying the body’s response to pain, and how it responds to certain stimuli.
Take Away: Foot massage affects the brain, targeting both the brain’s reward centres, as well as parts of the brain responsible for pain moderation.
3) Foot Massage Affects Cortisol Levels (Sometimes) and Stress (Always)
Given the above, it should come as no surprise that massage of all types also influences cortisol levels (13).
Cortisol is the stress hormone. It causes all sorts of havoc in our bodies – increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety. Foot massage significantly decreases reported stress levels across many different groups (14).
It goes without saying that a decrease in stress is a good thing – it enables people to go about their days without worry, leaving them with more room to think and concentrate on other things.
This decrease in stress was not a discrete effect – foot massage was found to prompt a decrease in stress in healthy undergraduate students, women with postpartum depression and middle aged women living in the countryside. This was even when the studies found no significant decrease in cortisol (15, 16, 17).
The fact that stress decreased in all groups (undergraduate student, women suffering post-partumn depression and middle aged women) signifies that while there may be other factors at play, foot massage is still an effective way to decrease stress levels.
Take Away: Foot Massage decreases stress levels . Some studies found only small decrease in cortisol levels associated with this, while some studies found statistically significant decreases in the stress hormone.
4 ) Foot Massage Affects us Because we are Being Taken Care Of:
A study into the effects of foot massage and reflexology looked at whether advanced cancer participants reported changes in mood when foot massage and foot reflexology was incorporated into their treatment and care (18). Most participants reported significant increases in wellbeing (18). The same was found in patients who participated in a study on the effects of foot massage in a critical care ward (19).
Human beings are social creatures, and we do not operate primarily on the basis of hormones and medications. When someone dedicates time to your comfort, it feels good. This feeling in turn prompts a release of hormones in your brain which creates a positive feedback loop. We feel good because we are being cared for. Thus, we get a release of hormones which make us feel good, and then we associate massage with something that is good for us.
As we saw above, foot massage affects the pleasure centres of our brains (10), our endorphin levels and decreases stress. While some studies showed statistically significant changes in biology due to massage, there is no way to remove the social aspect of foot massage from the studies. Thus, it is highly likely that while foot massage has its own discrete effects, it is even more likely that the social aspect of foot massage is a large part of that.
Take Away: Being taken care of is a social need, and a significant aspect of receiving a foot massage. Given that many studies reported decreases in stress, pain and anxiety, but could not find statistically significant changes in biological markers to explain this, it is likely that the social aspect of foot massage plays a large part.
5) Foot Massage Decreases our Perception of Pain
Pain has many different causes. Ranging from the psychological, to neural, to purely physical, it often combines many of these elements, making it a difficult condition to treat (20). It is a highly subjective experience, and one person’s agonising pain will be something that another person lives with day to day (21) . So how does foot massage help with pain?
If we look back at the ways that foot massage effects people, we see both physical effects and psychological effects. It provides social care, an increase in endorphins, and decreased stress levels. So it makes sense that when these things are effected, pain becomes easier to deal with. A study looking at how the perception of pain was affected by foot massage showed marked decreases in postoperative pain – so much so that the use of opioids in patients who received massage decreased when compared to the control groups (22).
This effect is most likely due to the ability of massage to treat several aspects of pain. We’ve already talked in this article about how massage affects parts of the brain involved in pain modulation (12), and how it also increases endorphin levels (9), and decreases stress levels (13).
Massage also provides a social element. Someone is taking care of you. It also has the potential to address the source of the pain. Deep tissue massage and massage focuses on the joints, looking to immediately effect the cause of the pain.
By combining an element of physical benefit, social benefit and psychological benefit, foot massage is able to effectively address multiple source of pain.
Key Take Away
Pain is a highly complicated phenomenon. As foot massage affects several different aspects of ourselves (physical, social and psychological), foot massage can be used effectively to treat pain.
6) Foot Massage Decreases Nausea and Vomiting
Barring a big night out, nausea and vomiting generally result from an upset stomach (in which case vomiting is probably the best thing for you), morning sickness, and the nausea and vomiting experienced by people in pain and cancer patients.
Nausea and vomiting is driven by specific mechanisms – activation of the vagus nerve, upset of your inner ear (motion sickness), or activating of dopamine receptors (related to stress) (23). While massage is not going to affect your inner ear, there is some theorisation in studies that massage may affect the dopamine receptors or the vagus nerve.
Evidence for massage’s effect on nausea and vomiting lies in studies that look at cancer patients. 10 minutes of foot massage was used to positively decrease the nausea and vomiting in cancer patients (24), with further studies finding the same (25).
Vomiting, especially if chronic, can cause a multitude of secondary problems, including dehydration and ion imbalances (an imbalance of the salts in your body) (24). This in turn can put someone in serious trouble – ions control nerve impulses, the beating of your heart and the ability of your muscles to contract (23). By assisting in controlling both nausea and vomiting, foot massage can help increase quality of life.
Take Away: Nausea and vomiting cause significant issues if left unchecked. Even singular episodes can affect quality of life. Foot massage can provide a way to help control and manage these symptoms, in turn leading to a better quality of life for those who experience these symptoms.
7) Foot Massage and Reflexology
Here we look at a specific type of massage, based on the principles of reflexology. Reflexology is based around the concept that by massaging the hands and feet, the masseuse can influence other parts of the body (26). There are several theories on how this works – one is that pressing points in the feet influences the central nervous system. Another is that energy flows through the body and by addressing points of problem in this flow, reflexology can return the body to its resting state. (26)
While there is some anecdotal evidence for this, much of the evidence regarding reflexology points to it increasing both circulation and lymphatic drainage as its main effect (26).
The lymphatic system and the circulatory system work together to maintain the water balance in the body, to filter the fluid in the body, and to protect against disease by housing and distributing white blood cells (23). By increasing the body’s circulation and lymphatic drainage, reflexology and massage of the feet has the potential to assist with fluid balance, and the movement of blood fluid through the bodies own personal inbuilt filtration system.
The practise of reflexology has also shown to have distinct effects that cannot be explained by increased circulation and lymphatic drainage (27). Such effects include relaxation, a decrease in pain, and a general improvement in quality of life (27). It is entirely possible, that as explored previously in this article, that this result from things such as the experience of being cared for, the increase in endorphins and the decrease in stress levels, rather than reflexology itself.
Key Take Away
Reflexology is a particular type of massage which focuses on points of tension within the soles of the feet and attempts to influence other body functions by their manipulation. While the evidence for how it works is largely anecdotal, its effects are well measured and include pain control and assistance with anxiety and depression.
8) Foot Massage Helps Maintain Healthy Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is a major measure of a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease (28). A higher blood pressure makes the heart work harder, resulting in increased stress and strain of cardiovascular muscle (28). For every extra 20 milligrams of mercury above a systolic pressure of 115 mmHG, a person’s risk of heart disease doubles (29). Given that heart disease is, in essence, a spectrum of disease spanning from angina to heart attacks, it is important that blood pressure be kept under control (30).
Blood pressure results from three different things – the force at which blood is expelled from the heart, the number of times it is expelled from the heart (heart rate), and the volume of blood present (23). Blood volume is a product of the relationship between the lymphatic system, which drains fluid from blood and sifts through it before pumping it back into blood, and the circulatory system. Heart rate is influenced by many things, but stress is a large external factor. The force at which blood is expelled from the heart relies on the size of the heart – an overlarge heart will pump out blood with far more force, driving blood pressure higher. An enlarged heart is generally the result of overworking it – after all, it is a muscle, and muscles grow with extensive use.
Given what we’ve already talked with regards to the effects that massage has on stress, the lymphatic and circulatory systems, it comes as no shock that foot massage also has a positive effect on blood pressure. Evidence for this can be seen in a study on foot massages’ effect in the Japanese community (31) . This study found a statistically significant decrease in systolic blood pressure and anxiety levels (31). Foot massage can therefore be used, in conjunction with its stress busting abilities, to help control blood pressure, and thus decrease the risk of heart disease.
Key Take Away
Blood pressure is influenced by many factors including stress, heart rate, and blood volume, and foot massage can benefit them all. While not a be all and end all, it can be useful in managing underlying causes of high blood pressure.
9) Foot Massage Helps Maintain a Healthy Heart Rate
Like blood pressure, heart rate is tied to the function of the heart. If the heart beats too fast, several things can occur. In critical situations, the heart does not have enough time to fill with blood, and thus cannot supply an adequate blood supply to the rest of the body (23). In less critical situations, a sustained increased heart rate can lead to feelings of anxiety, and experiences of dizziness and chest pain (32).
The same Japanese study that looked at blood pressure also examined the effect that foot massage had on heart rate. It found that foot massage decreased the average heart rate in the participants (31). Another study looked at children in intensive care – children who very obviously have undergone much in the way of stress, and found again that their long term heart rate decreased over several sessions of massage, despite their surroundings and situation (33).
This decrease in heart rate has very obvious benefits – it removes significant stress from the heart. A heart that works too hard is a heart that enlarges – thus contributing to increased blood pressure and a risk of cardiovascular disease (34).
Take Away: Foot massage benefits in the area of heart rate – it helps keep it within normal levels. This in turn assists the body in maintaining its normal equilibrium, and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
10) Foot Massage Helps Maintain Balance
Balance is something most people don’t think about until it is a skill they don’t possess. A lack of balance affects people’s ability to move – to stand, to walk, to participate in life.
There are two components to balance – the inner ear and the mechanical parts of balance (23). Foot massage can assist with the mechanical aspects – a study of those whose balance had been affected by diabetes found that foot massage significantly increased their balance (35).
A lack of balance also often affects the elderly, and those with conditions such as osteoarthritis. Given that massage also has a positive effect on the pain associated with arthritis (36), massage acts a multi-benefit therapy, giving people both control over their mobility, and relieving their pain.
Take Away: Balance contributes much to our ability to move and participate in society. Foot massage helps address the mechanical aspects of balance, especially in people who have conditions that affects their balance, such as arthritis and diabetes.
11) Foot Massage Benefits the Skin of our Feet
With increased circulation, foot massage also brings about benefits to the skin on your feet. This may not seem as important as the skin on your face, but feet – like your hands – are the parts of our body that we put under the most pressure. We force them into uncomfortable shoes, walk barefoot, put pressure on our soles for hours.
A study on Thai foot massage found that the act of massage increased both temperature and blood flow to the connective tissue below the skin (37) Foot massage provides many other benefits to the tissue – such as increased blood flow and increased lymphatic drainage..
Foot massage can also assist with people who suffer from swelling of the feet – a study found significant decrease in swelling in the leg following three months of foot massage (38). This can generally be attributed to increased lymphatic drainage and increased blood flow. As mentioned before, these two aspects working together control the water balance in our body. Swelling in the feet, known medically as oedema, results from an imbalance in water drainage.
Foot massage can also decrease the appearance of scarring – one study found that in Korean burns victims, skin pliability, circulation and appearance improved following three months of massage. (39)
Take Away: Looking after the skin on our feet is often one of our last priorities – however, given how much we rely on our feet and how much we put them through, it should be out first. Foot massage assists with circulation, lymphatic drainage, swelling of the feet, and scar appearance, allowing us to better look after our skin.
12) Foot Massage Helps to Manage Anxiety
Given that we have already investigated how foot massage decreases stress, increases endorphins, provides a sense of closeness and assists with pain management, it should come as no surprise that foot massage also helps relieve feeling of anxiety.
Anxiety is one of those things that many people experience throughout their lifetime. In childhood, adolescence, and as people age, there are many things to feel anxious about, and most of the time it’s a natural response to circumstances (40). Anxiety disorders occur when that anxiety is persistent, and occurs in circumstances where such a reaction is not warranted (41).
Foot massage is not something that will cure anxiety. People should always go and see their health providers. However, given that science does still not have the full picture regarding anxiety, the use of foot massage to relieve both normal and chronic anxiety has much to recommend it.
A Swedish study looking at the effect of massage therapy on women with anxiety found no marked increase in anxiety across the time of the study, but also found significant decreases in many of the markers of anxiety – heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and respiratory rate (42). The Japanese study that we looked at earlier also measured anxiety levels while performing foot massage and found a significant decrease in anxiety levels (31).
Take Away: 1 in 5 people will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime, with two of the most common problems being anxiety and depression. Foot massage gives us an alternate therapy that can work alongside medicine and talk therapy to address the multiple causes for mental illness.
13) Foot Massage Helps Manage Depression
Depression and anxiety often occur hand in hand – most people who experience a mental illness are also at high risk of experiencing another one (43). Depression, like anxiety, is only partially understood by medicine – we know that it has to do with serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, but often the medications used to address this take 6 weeks to work, while the side effects of the medications start immediately(44).
There is clearly social, physical, cultural, and psychological aspects to depression. Given we have seen that foot massage can influence us physically and psychosocially, it should come as no surprise that here again, foot massage can be useful.
In a study of women suffering from postpartum depression, researchers found that massage significantly decreased reports of depression (45). Another study of middle aged women experiencing depression found similar results (46).
If we were to look at the effect that foot massage has on both anxiety and depression and also look at the underlying ways that foot massage has its effect (social bonding, decrease in stress, increase in endorphins), it seems fairly logical that while not a cure, foot massage is a useful tool for people who experience anxiety and depression to add to their tool box.
Take Away: Depression, like anxiety, is a disease that is multifaceted and complicated. With foot massage addressing both biological and social triggers for depression, it presents a useful tool to help in the management of the condition.
14) Foot Massage can Assist with Muscle Soreness
Muscle soreness is generally the thing that people think about first when it comes to massage. As previously mentioned, we humans put our feet through quite a bit of abuse – walking all day in inappropriate shoes, not paying attention to how long we spend on our feet– it is easy to see how muscle soreness develops in the feet.
Massage, by definition, is the process of pressing at muscle and connective tissue to relieve tension (47). While some forms of foot massage, such as reflexology, look to influence other parts of the body through dispelling tension in the feet, the fact of the matter is that massage aims to use touch to improve the patient’s quality of life through manipulation of tissue(48).
People experience many different types of muscle soreness – the muscle soreness after exercise, the muscle soreness that comes from straining something, and the muscle soreness that comes from tension. Massage helps all of these, providing an easy tool for people to use to relieve tension, heal exercise soreness and decrease injury pain (49, 50, 51).
A study of people exhibiting day after muscle soreness looked at the effectiveness of massage in relieving their pain. This particular study looked at body builders, and found that massage significantly decreased post exercise pain (49). Other studies that focused on marathon runners found similar results (50).
Take Away: Muscle soreness inhibits people’s efforts both in their everyday lives, and their sporting endeavours. By decreasing the amount of pain that results from using our muscles, foot massage allows for rapid recovery.
15) Foot Massage can Help Decrease Joint Pain
Along with muscle soreness, joint pain is one of the main complaints for people that use foot massage as a tool of their daily life. Joint pain can occur for many reasons – from arthritis, to general stiffness, to post injury pain. It is something that affects large populations of people (36).
Foot massage focuses on areas of tension. By relaxing the muscles around the joints, and massaging the connective tissue that holds these joints in place, foot massage can provide relief. A study of patients experiencing joint pain from osteoarthritis found significant decrease in pain following consistent foot massage with lavender oil and almond oil (36).
Given that joint pain can be further exacerbated by muscles stiffness, the ability of massage to loosen tension in stiff muscles (51), is of particular interest. By loosening the stiffness in the surrounding tissue, the tension is taken off of the joints and decreases some of the pain felt due to the inflammation of the tissues in the joints (36).
Take Away: Joint pain hinders the efforts of people to live normal lives. Joint pain in the feet, especially, can have a significant effect as it makes walking and getting around difficult. Foot massage provides a way to decrease that pain, and thus improve the quality of life of those experiencing it.
16) Foot Massage Helps Manage Insomnia
Insomnia is a complicated beast. Like many issues to do with the brain, it is often multifactorial, having more than one root cause. Some of the causes include different drugs (like caffeine, nicotine, the medication you take for asthma), shift work, stress, depression, and pain. Sometimes we just don’t know the cause behind insomnia (52).
However, looking at the causes behind insomnia, we can already see how foot massage addresses many of these. If foot massage decreases your levels of stress, you’re more likely to sleep. If it assists with depression, you’re more likely to sleep. If foot massage helps with your pain, including joint and muscle pain, you’re more likely to sleep.
Evidence for this can be found in several studies where insomnia was shown to decrease in incidence and severity when foot massage was provided to women suffering from post-natal depression (45). By providing a sense of calm, by assisting with depression, stress and pain, foot massage provides a viable therapy in assisting oneself to get asleep.
Take Away: Foot massage addresses many of the causes of insomnia, helping to prevent the problem of not being able to sleep in the first place. It also presents an immediate sense of calm and being cared for – both things which prompt sleep.
17) Foot Massage Helps Decrease the Severity and Length of Headaches and Migraines
Headaches and migraines occur for many reasons – stress, tiredness, infections, illness (53). Sometimes we have no idea what the cause or trigger is. Thus, therapy is often based on what has worked before for that individual. A lack of light, less sound, certain types of painkillers. Often though people have to work through migraines, using medications that sometimes work, sometimes don’t.
Here foot massage can be of assistance, not necessarily by replacing other therapies, but by working alongside them. We’ve already looked at how foot massage addresses some of the above causes – stress and insomnia. By treating these causes, foot massage is helping to prevent episodes from occurring in the first place.
However, other research has also found that foot massages can decrease the severity and length of headaches and migraines (54). This is of particular importance – both because it provides relief to the sufferer, but also because it enables other methods – such as darkness, and rest, and rehydration – a better chance of working.
Take Away: Headaches and migraines can be debilitating and extremely difficult to control. While foot massage does not provide the cure for these afflictions it does help in two ways. Firstly, it helps manage some of the causes of migraines and headaches. And secondly, it’s been shown to decrease the severity and length of these migraines and headaches, giving other coping methods a chance to work.
18) Foot Massage Helps with Injury Rehabilitation
Injuries can be debilitating, not only in the immediate, but also in their aftermath. Rehabilitation, building up strength, learning to use muscles and tendons again – it’s not an easy path.
Foot massage helps here by allowing a person to go through with all that they need to do to get back on the road to recovery. As we’ve already seen, foot massage helps address many things that makes rehabilitation difficult – pain, stress, muscle soreness, joint stiffness, fatigue (36, 51). It also assists in areas of depression and anxiety, things that also often afflict those who are working through injuries.
Foot massage also helps specifically when leg and foot injuries are involved. It addresses not only concurrent stresses and causes of pain, but allows the person to directly target pain in their feet, of the muscles in their legs (which are often connected to the bones of the feet)(36). In this way, foot massage allows a person both the chance to attend rehabilitation activities and strive towards the rehabilitation of their injury, but it also allows the individual to address immediate problems when it comes to their feet and legs.
Take Away: Injuries are never pleasant, and their recovery period can often stretch into the weeks and months. Foot massage offers a way of assisting with that recovery, both by addressing things that make recovery difficult, but also by addressing immediate problems of tension in the feet and legs.
How we picked our test products
When we first started researching the electric foot massagers market, we discovered that there were lots of products available, but relatively few that were highly-regarded. This meant that the first step was eliminating products that had significantly negative reviews on Amazon.
We also limited our focus to foot massagers that were mentioned positively on forums, professional reviews, and Reddit threads. Finally, we spoke with Dr. Rapaport — a nationally-recognized doctor with experience in psychology, behaviorial science, and the benefits of massage therapy — as well as other doctors who helped us determine which electric foot massagers (as well as which neck massagers) were best suited to have a positive impact on health.
We also strongly prioritized massagers with heating functionality — however we did make an exception for the MedMassager, both because of the significant number of positive reviews it had as well as the fact that it is designed to work differently than Shiatsu and heat-based foot massagers.
Once we narrowed the list, we looked for massagers that had the best combination of features and specs, and ordered the five products from that curated list to test in our office.
The five best foot massagers
- Brookstone – Shiatsu with Heat
- MedMassager – 11 Speed
- uComfy – Shiatsu with Heat
- 3Q – with Heat
- Homedics – Deep Kneading Shiatsu
How we tested
Once we had our list of five finalists, we assessed each of them individually based on a number of criteria, including ease of use, effectiveness, and features offered. We also took things like weight, portability, and power usage into account as well.
In general, we were looking for foot massagers that were easy to operate, comfortable on our feet, and had a substantially positive impact on how our feet felt after five to 10 minutes in the massager.
Secondary metrics we looked included the power usage of each foot massager while in use, the weight of each massager, whether the massagers had a handle for easier portability, and whether there was an automatic shutoff built in.
While these features did have an impact on our selection of finalists as well as our top picks, they were secondary to the actual operation and benefits of each electric foot massager.
Foot massage focus group
During testing, we realized that massaging preferences can be fairly subjective. Some people prefer intense ones that really get the knots out, while others prefer a more gentle and soothing massage; possibly with some heat to relax their muscles.
While we did our best to assess each machine as objectively as possible, ultimately we realized that having a larger sample size, which included a wider range of people, would help us find the best possible product.
We came up with five different metrics and asked 10 people to rate each of the electric foot massagers on a scale of one to 10 using those metrics. We also made sure each person had walked a lot that day, and felt like they could really use a foot massage.
For this category, we asked each member of the focus group to rate the appearance of the foot massager. If they were to own the massager in question, would they put it somewhere easily visible in a living room or bedroom, or hide it away when not in use?
For the user friendliness rating, we asked each member of the focus group to describe how easy it was for them to figure out how to use the massager. This included both turning the massagers on and off as well as adjusting the massager to their desired settings.
We distinguished “comfort” from the “pain relief” metric. For comfort, we asked our focus group to limit the rating to their comfort without the massagers turned on.
This is the key measurement, and was used to compare how each person felt before and after they used the foot massager.
Want to use it again?
We used this metric as a way to gauge the “overall” score each member of our focus gave to the massagers. We specifically asked them not to consider the cost when providing this rating.
The results of the survey made it clear that the Brookstone was the clear favorite when taking into account all categories, however the MedMassager also stood out for the significant pain relief it offered — even if the aesthetics were lower than the average.
Important features to consider
If you decide to purchase a foot massager, the first step is to determine what the primary purpose of the massager will be. If you’re getting one for a specific medical condition — such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or an inflammatory disease like arthritis — there are certain features you’ll want to make sure your choice includes.
If, on the other hand, you simply want a foot massager as a way to relax after a long day, you can be a bit more flexible about which massager you choose.
Once you know the primary purpose of what you’re looking for, the next step is to find the one that offers the features you want. Some of the features you should think about include:
- Does the massager heat up?
- Are there intensity settings?
- Is the massager easy to carry?
- How noisy is the massager?
You’ll also want to decide whether you want a foot massager that is designed to improve circulation in your foot, or more of an “all-purpose” option. If your top priority is improving circulation, the MedMassager is hands-down the best massager on the market. This one uses a design that oscillates a platform to massage instead of Shiatsu style rollers.
If you want more of an all-purpose massager, it’s worth looking into the specific features and settings of each machine. In general, a product that provides heating, variable levels of pressure, and a shiatsu-style massage will be effective for general wellness.
It’s also worth considering the weight and portability of the foot massager as well — particularly for the elderly or those with health conditions. Having a handle can make a massager significantly easier to move around, and of course the lighter a product is, the easier it is to move around when needed.
One interesting consideration that we didn’t realize until we started testing was the challenge of using MedMassager in an apartment, hotel, or anywhere else that your floor is someone else’s ceiling. That’s because the MedMassager works by creating fairly strong vibrations — which can potentially be felt, and heard, from the floor below.
Brookstone – Shiatsu with Heat
After looking at five of the most popular and well-regarded electric foot massagers on the market, including a 10-person focus group and several different tests, we determined that the Brookstone – Shiatsu with Heat is the best one currently available.
We liked this one right off the bat. In addition to looking the best, it was easy and straightforward to operate and provided the right amount of pressure and intensity on pressure points on our feet. This unit effectively combines Shiatsu-style massager rollers with air compression and heat to relax the muscles in your feet and remove tension that built up during the day.
The three programmable settings — Pulse, Energize, and Soothe — are reasonably accurate descriptions of the type of foot massage you get. We also appreciated the straightforward “high” and “low” settings (displayed as “H” and “L”, respectively).
For people who like a strong foot massage, the high setting should be more than sufficient. The low setting is still fairly intense, so individuals who are very sensitive to foot massage might still find the strength to be a little too strong.
Cleaning this product was simple as well. The foot linings have zippers holding them into the massager itself. Removing the linings was easy, as was throwing them into the washing machine (make sure to use a gentle wash cycle).
One seemingly-minor feature we really liked was the handle built into the massager itself. This was the only foot massager of the five we tested with a handle, and it made moving the massager around much easier.
Focus group results
While the this is one of the more expensive products we tested, it was the only one that consistently scored high across the board in our focus group. In fact, the average score of 9.1 was far ahead of the rest of the pack, with uComfy coming in second place with an average score of 7.3, and the overall average for the five massagers coming in at 7.02 (largely due to Brookstone’s score).
Put another way, the this machine is the only one we would categorize as a “classy” product.
When researching products, we found that some had needlessly complicated controls and functionality. While customizability and flexibility are valuable, overdoing it on something relatively simple like a electric foot massager adds more difficulty than benefit.
Operating this machine was fairly straightforward, with a clearly marked on/off, heat, high, and low buttons. Each of the three foot massage programs are also written onto their respective buttons, making it easy to set the massagers to the exact settings you want.
Everyone in our focus group had an easy time using this foot massager, which is why it had the second-best score among our finalists (behind only the MedMassager).
The lining is fairly comfortable. The massager as a whole received a score of 8.2 out of 10 for comfort. While that seems slightly low for a top pick, it was the best scoring massager overall, and was well-above the average of 6.96.
While the inside isn’t silky-smooth, it is definitely comfortable, particularly when compared to the other finalists we tested.
Pain relief is one area where this machine particularly shined, and was one of the primary factors in our naming it our winner. After all, the purpose of a foot massage is to make your feet feel better.
When we used the foot massager, the consensus was that the air compression and the Shiatsu-style kneading massage worked particularly well to improve blood flow and relax the muscles. After about 5 minutes using this machine, we felt pretty great.
Our impressions were backed up by the focus group as well. This massager earned a score of 9.2 out of 10 from our 10-person focus group, which was significantly ahead of the remaining finalists.
Want to use it again?
With all four of the other metrics ranking so high, it came as no surprise that our everyone in our focus group was interested in trying it again in the future — leading to a score of nine out of 10.
Before conducting the focus group, we already had this foot massager marked as our likely top pick based on our own testing and assessment. However, with a total score of 44.4 out of 50 in our focus group, the Brookstone’s place as our top pick was solidified.
Things we didn’t like
Overall, we found this massager to be the best option available. While it was relaxing, there were a couple of issues we noticed while testing that are worth mentioning.
The most significant issue is that it takes a while for the heat to fully activate. During our testing, we noticed that it took about 30 seconds to start heating up, and another minute and a half (for a total of two minutes) before the heat was significant enough to have a positive impact.
For a foot massage that might only be five to 10 minutes, this is somewhat of an issue. Our solution was to let the massager heat up for about a minute before putting our feet in, which was an effective workaround.
While we would have preferred that the massager heat up more quickly, it is reasonable to expect heat to take some time to turn on, and none of the other massagers we tested were any better.
We also found the weight to potentially be slightly problematic. Coming in at 10 pounds, it was right in the middle of the pack. However, we could foresee the weight being an issue for the elderly or those in poor health, which would limit the portability of the massager in those situations.
Finally, those with big feet might not be comfortable with this machine. The massager itself is rated to fit individuals with shoe sizes up to 12.5, however one of the people in our focus group had a shoe size of 12 and he said he felt a little too “snug”.
This massager is an excellent choice, and is easily the best foot massager we tested thanks to its effective foot massage technique, attention to style and aesthetics, and comfort and usability.
- The Brookstone foot massager was our top pick thanks to its effective foot massage technique.
- The massager is easy to use, with clearly marked buttons.
- The heat and weight are the most significant downsides.
Best for circulation:
MedMassager – 11 Speed
The MedMassager is very popular online and is frequently recommended by doctors as a way to improve circulation in the feet.
Unlike the other massagers we tested, this device uses oscillations to stimulate the skin and muscles to improve circulation instead of Shiatsu-style kneading massage with rollers. This results in a distinctly different foot massage experience.
This device has 12 settings, one through 11 and an “off”, which makes operation fairly straightforward. Operating the massager is as simple as twisting the knob to the desired intensity and putting your feet on the rubber pad. This machine has many intensity levels but it only has one oscillating motion, and no heat function.
According to the company that makes the MedMassager, the massager’s lowest setting operates at 1,000 RPM and the highest operates at 4,000 RPM. This means there is significant variance between each of the settings, making it easy for anyone to choose one that is right for them.
When first using this, we found that the oscillations were a little intense and took some getting used to. However, once we got past the initial surprise, there was no question this massager was relaxing the muscles not only in our feet, but in our lower legs as well.
One feature that is often overlooked is the “Arch Bar” located across the top of the massager. According to the doctors we spoke to, this bar is used to directly stimulate the tendon in the arch of the foot — known as the plantar tendon.
For individuals that have periodic or frequent foot and leg cramps, the stimulation of this tendon can provide significant relief. Even if you don’t have cramps or another medical condition (such as in our case) using the bar felt great.
One other minor detail that we appreciated was the fact the company has their website and phone number printed on the top of the massager.
While they won’t be earning any style points for that one — especially when compared to the Brookstone — it is useful to have that information available for those who have questions or problems with their massager. For the elderly or sick, this can be a particularly significant convenience.
Finally, this device has excellent build quality, which means it will last for many years. In fact, the it comes with a one-year warranty, with an option to purchase a three-year warranty for $29.99, or a lifetime warranty for $39.99.
Even if you choose not to purchase the extended warranty, the fact that such a robust one-year warranty is included speaks volumes about the quality of the MedMassager.
While this machine isn’t as relaxing or “therapeutic” as our top pick, the Brookstone foot massager, we felt quite relaxed once we were done with our 10 minute session.
Things we didn’t like
While there are plenty of positive things to say about the MedMassager, there are a few negatives that stood out to us during our testing and focus group.
The first, and perhaps most significant issue is primarily limited to individuals that live in apartments (or anywhere else that your floor is someone else’s ceiling).
Since the this deviceworks by oscillating at a very rapid rate, vibrations are also transferred to the floor. What was surprising was just how significant those vibrations could be, to the point that we could feel them even when standing 15 feet away.
If you live in an upstairs apartment, the oscillations could be prohibitively loud and irritating for your downstairs neighbors — particularly if the floors aren’t that thick. If you do decide to get one of these and you live in an apartment, make sure you ask your downstairs neighbor if they can hear when the massager is being used.
Another design feature we would have liked to see was a handle. Unlike the Brookstone electric foot massager, the MedMassager doesn’t have an easy way to carry it. That, in conjunction with its 11 pound weight, could pose a problem for some users.
Finally, the it’s a specialized product. That has several implications, such as a lack of a heat function and just a general inability to be an all-purpose foot massager. This device is great for those who are looking for exactly this type of product, but others might find it lacking in certain respects.
Focus group results for MedMassager
This one came in second place, with a final score of 38.5 out of 50. The areas where the it was weakest were in aesthetics and comfort, with a score of 6.8 and 6.1 respectively.
With its utilitarian appearance and somewhat-tacky large-font phone number printed on top, looks like it would be better suited for a doctor’s office instead of a living room. That’s because for most of the product’s history it was used in a doctor’s office.
The MedMassager has been used by doctors, physical therapists, and other medical professionals for years. It’s only relatively recently that this device has been marketed directly to consumers.
While this led to a somewhat weak “aesthetics” score, it’s worth noting this device’s appearance is also a reflection of the trust medical professionals have placed in it over the years.
Compared to the Brookstone, as well as the other foot massagers we tested, the MedMassager is not as comfortable. This is largely due to the fact that the other foot massagers we tested allow you to sit back with your feet flat, whereas this one is set up on an angle.
Again, this is a reflection of the MedMassager’s primary role as a medical device in the past, so it’s worth taking the 6.1 comfort score with a grain of salt. That being said, if you’re looking for a purely relaxing, “spa-like” foot massager, the MedMassager might not be the way to go.
One area where the this device particularly stood out in our focus group was it’s user friendliness score At 9.1 out of 10, this was the highest user friendly rating of all the massagers we tested — including out top pick, the Brookstone.
This rating matches our own assessment of the MedMassager. Operation is extremely straightforward, with a single knob turning anywhere from off to 11 for varying degrees of intensity.
Despite its simple operation, the MedMassager proved to be effective at pain relief; as reflected in its 8.2 out of 10 score. Once again, the MedMassager was second only to the Brookstone (9.2).
One frequent comment from our focus group was that the pain relief from the MedMassager was mostly noticed after the massager was over. This stands in contrast to the other massagers, which provided pain relief right from the beginning.
The MedMassager is an excellent — if somewhat specialized — foot massager. If you’re looking for a foot massager that improves circulation, this one should be at the top of your list.
- The MedMassager is the best for improving circulation
- The massager doesn’t have certain important features, such as a carrying handle, a heat function, or kneading massage capabilities.
- This device is the most specialized of the massagers we tested, which means it is ideal for those who need its specific features, but won’t be right for everyone.
The other products we tested
The remaining three foot massagers we tested all had one thing in common: they were decent, but not outstanding, products. There wasn’t anything glaringly wrong with them, but they didn’t excel neither.
The uComfy did an all-around decent job. Its appearance is fine, but feels somewhat dated, and the foot massage itself was close in quality to the Brookstone. However, the controls on this device didn’t work great, and there wasn’t much variation between the settings.
In our focus group, the user friendliness score was 6.8, which was towards the bottom of the list. It performed in the mid-seven range for the rest of the metrics, and was the closest of the remaining three to be considered an “honorable mention”.
Homedics Deep Kneading
We were disappointed by the Homedics massager because there were several very positive reviews. It is the simplest and most straightforward device we tested featuring Shiatsu style kneading massager rollers. However, we found the quality of the massage to be underwhelming.
The underwhelming foot massage was also supported by our focus group, which gave the Homedics massager a comfort and pain relief rating of 5.1 and 5.5 respectively.
The 3Q was similar to the uComfy in the sense that the controls don’t offer much variation. Features are basically limited to turning kneading, air pressure, and heating on or off without any variation in intensity. There are also two programs to choose from, without any description about how they differ.
In the focus group, the 3Q received a score of 6.5 out of 10; the lowest of all our finalists. We think this score matches with our own experience as well.
The bottom line
The health impact of foot massagers are significant and scientifically proven. Whether you are an average healthy adult or you’re recovering from a pregnancy or even a chronic illness, foot massagers can improve your blood pressure and circulation, reduce unhealthy levels of cortisol from your body, and provide you with a general sense of well-being.
The other three products we tested did an acceptable job. However, if you’re going to spend $150 or more on a foot massager, we think its worth getting a product that will perform well for many years.
The Brookstone foot massager sells for about $70-80 more than either the uComfy or the 3Q massagers at the time of publishing this article. However, we think it is more than worth it, given the significant performance improvements the Brookstone offers over the uComfy, 3Q, and Homedics foot massagers.
If you want a more medically-focused product and aren’t as concerned about getting the “spa treatment”, the MedMassager is a proven product that has been used by doctors and physical therapists for years to improve circulation.
If you enjoy relaxing to massages from time to time, or have a medical condition which requires regular massages, foot massagers can be a valuable and cost-effective supplementary device.
Top Pick: Brookstone – Shiatsu
This massager comes with heated Shiatsu style rollers is the best choice for anyone looking to improve their general health and relax.