Foot massages may be the best medicine for women going through menopause

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Giving a foot massage to a woman in menopause can improve her sleep quality and reduce some of the most persistent symptoms.

A new study suggests that a foot massage can help postmenopausal women reduce sleep disruption, anxiety, and insomnia. A dramatic reduction in estrogen during the menopause transition can cause numerous physical and mental health issues including fatigue, hot flashes, and sleep deprivation. Recent research from the Cleveland-based North American Menopause Society (NAMS) finds that a foot massage during menopause can increase a woman’s average daily sleep duration by as much as one hour each day.

While hormone therapy options are widely available to women experiencing menopause, this new study finds no downside to offering a foot massage. Fatigue is among the top three negative symptoms women experience during menopause.

“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 non-hormonal option to help relieve symptoms,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, medical director at NAMS, in a media release.

Overall, the small-scale study findings suggest a reduction in postmenopausal women’s levels of anxiety and fatigue.

What exactly is menopause?

The National Institute of Aging describes menopause as the point in a woman’s life where she goes 12 months without having a menstrual period. This time typically features three stages – perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause – in which fluctuating hormone levels lead to physical and mental health issues.

The study authors acknowledge that hormone therapy is an effective treatment option for many menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flashes. Hormone therapy can also help the more than one-third of women over the age of 45 who say sleep quality is the primary negative symptom of menopause. However, the researchers say reflexology, a specific type of massage therapy, increases overall relaxation. Foot massages in particular help individuals relax and restore the body’s balance by “stimulating the nerve cells located in the legs.”

This is far from the first study which suggests that even brief periods of massage therapy can have elongated health benefits. A 2020 study conducted in Germany found that just 10 minutes of massage can help active the body’s regenerative, stress-fighting systems. That research tied brief massages to the reactivation of the body’s stress-eliminating parasympathetic nervous system.

This latest research is published in the online journal Menopause.

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