What you may not realize, though, is that gua sha’s powers extend beyond creating a sculpted jaw. For hundreds of years, the practice has been used to alleviate pain and treat ailments from head to toe—literally. If chronic foot pain is getting in the way of your day-to-day, it might be high time for a DIY guassage. Read ahead to discover the gua sha tools and techniques that can help you get back on your feet.
- Jeffrey Ulery, DC, Dr. Jeffrey Ulery is a certified chiropractor and the co-founder of Whole Body Health in Austin, Texas.
How can gua sha treat foot pain?
Dr. Jeffrey Ulery, DC, chiropractor and co-founder of Whole Body Health in Austin, Texas, has been using gua sha massage on his patients' feet for over 10 years. Along with cupping therapy, gua sha remains one of his favorite treatment methods for muscular strain thanks to its ability to break up fascia, the thin connective tissue that holds our muscles in place.
“Every bone, joint, muscle, organ, artery, vein, everything in the body is surrounded by fascia,” explains Dr. Ulery. “As we get older, and we grow, and we fall, and we get sick, and we think things happen to our body. Micro traumas—and even bigger traumas, like fractures—create adhesion in the fascia.”
Bodily gua sha massage breaks up these thick adhesions and digs through tight knots in the muscle, all while increasing your circulation. This helps fascia get back to its healthy, lubricated state, enabling your muscles to move over each other more easily, says Ulery.
“When you get adhesions in the fascia, instead of being lubricated and sliding over each other, it becomes more like Velcro,” says Ulery. “This is going to decrease range of motion, it's going to contribute to pain patterns, and it's going to contribute to dysfunctional movement and joints.”
Breaking up tight fascia in the foot can help support strained muscles caused by poor gait, posture, and injury, and help relieve most common sources of foot discomfort, says Ulery.
How To Use Gua Sha to Treat Foot Pain
Ulery recommends using ergonomic stainless steel tools for bodily gua sha versus jade. Stainless steel is incredibly durable, easy-to-clean, and glides well over lubricated areas.
Facial gua sha tools tend to be thinner and have soft, rounded edges that target the jaw. While this shape is great for small areas, gua sha tools with longer sides and more pointed angles can target areas of the body better. Tools like the H-Brotaco Stainless Steel Gua Sha Tool and STICKON Stainless Steel Gua Sha Scraping Massage Tool are easier to hold and are better at targeting larger areas, says Ulery.
As with facial gua sha, Ulery recommends properly lubricating your feet before attempting gua sha. Lubing up with an oil or balm will help the tool glide easily over your skin, allowing you to rub out the area more efficiently.
“If you do gua sha straight on the skin, it can break [the skin],” says Ulery. “I tend to recommend something like coconut oil because it doesn't absorb into the skin as fast. You just want something to help create lubrication over the tissue.”
Before beginning, you'll want to determine where your foot pain stems from. Oftentimes, says Ulery, foot pain and lower leg pain can go hand in hand. Using your gua sha tool and lubricant, lightly rub the affected area and follow the pain “upstream” toward your lower legs. Pay attention to how your muscle sounds and feels during your gua sha treatment; Ulery says tight fascia will have a crunchy, velcro-like texture.
“Wherever you feel more crunch or grit under the skin, that’s a good indicator of where to work,” says Ulery.
Gua sha for hammertoes
Targeting the bottom of the foot near your metatarsophalangeal joints—AKA your toe knuckles—can help restore mobility and relieve symptoms of hammertoes, says Ulery.
Gua sha for plantar fasciitis
Rubbing upstream from the heel to the ball of your foot along the plantar fascia can help break up tissue and offer relief from plantar fasciitis. Pulling your toes toward yourself can help you get a better angle for targeting this area, says Ulery.
Gua sha for bunions
According to Ulery, lightly rubbing bunions during their early stage can help break up tight connective tissue that has formed due to misalignment of the big toe.“It won’t fix it if you're walking in high heels every day, you have poor footwear, or poor biomechanics, but it can help,” he adds.
How often can I use gua sha for foot pain?
While there’s no set time limit to how often you can use gua sha for your feet, Dr. Ulery recommends listening to your body’s signals. Too much agitation can leave your feet feeling sore and can even result in bruising.
According to Ulery, just a few minutes a day can be enough to help alleviate foot pain. If your foot pain is persistent, Ulery recommends sticking to a daily gua sha session to help break up stubborn fascia.
Other things to keep in mind
Less is more
Apply enough pressure to target the muscle, but be careful: aggressive rubbing can break capillaries near the skin’s surface and lead to painful, unsightly bruises. “Less is more, you don't have to push really hard,” says Ulery. “You're just trying to normalize tissue function—you're trying to take tissue that's at ease, and improve it.”
Avoid sensitive areas
When using gua sha on your feet, be gentle on sensitive areas that lack sufficient padding, such as the tops of your toes and feet.
“You can really tear the tissue up since you have that hard surface underneath this tissue that doesn't have a lot of fat or cushion,” says Ulery, ““so if you are going to do it over bone, you have to be extremely gentle.”
Be wary of past trauma, medical diagnoses, and skin issues, too, says Ulery. Massaging compromised areas can exacerbate existing issues; when in doubt, consult your doctor beforehand.
“You don't want to scrape over an area where there's a rash, or an open wound, and I wouldn't scrape over an area where there’s been a cancer diagnosis,” adds Ulery.
Ready to gua sha the foot pain away? Check out Dr. Ulery’s video below to see it in action.
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