As I slipped under the covers of the massage table, it was only fair to warn my masseuse, Lulu, about the challenge ahead.
“I’m sorry,” I said sheepishly. “My calves and hamstrings are so, so tight.”
Lulu got down to business and did serious work on my body. My feet, calves, and hamstrings took a particularly intense kneading. It felt like she was disentangling the rigid strands of a thick rope in a way that was incredibly needed.
As we wrapped up and I was thanking her, she gave me some advice: “You need to soak your feet in warm water for 15 minutes every night,” Lulu said.
“For my calves?” I asked. “And legs,” Lulu replied.
“Okay, but…” I didn’t get to finish my question of, well, “why?” before Lulu whisked out of the room, off to her next lucky client.
My upper and lower leg muscles are tight because of the running, dead lifting, and non-ergonomic sitting I do on the regular. I also have pretty flat feet, which can pull on my calf muscles and tendons when I walk, further straining them and causing tension. However, tightness like mine is in fact very common.
“Muscles tighten up just from the repetitive stress of twisting and turning and bending day after day after day,” chiropractor Jeffrey Klein, DC, founder of Broadway Chiropractic & Wellness Center in New York City, previously told Well+Good.
Lower body tightness can start in your feet and work its way up from a myriad of sources, like “standing on your feet for many hours, the type of shoes you wear, sitting too long, flying, or strenuous workouts,” says massage therapist Gilma Linares, the assistant spa manager of Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles.
I asked Linares if my massage therapist Lulu’s advice to soak my feet every night to reduce tightness held water. She was all for it.
“Soaking feet in hot water reduces inflammation and stimulates circulation,” Linares says. “Therefore, it will help reduce pain or discomfort to lower extremities such as lower back, hips, and legs.”
Sitting or standing for long periods of time causes blood to pool in the lower body, “which adds pressure to leg veins and compromises their structural integrity,” Kate Denniston, ND, a licensed naturopathic doctor at Los Angeles Integrative Health clinic, previously told Well+Good. That’s why Linares says paying attention to your feet can pay off in other parts of the body.
“Warm water will increase circulation, which helps with cell recovery,” Linares says. Those muscles that are knotty or inflamed from exercise or being stationary get some extra blood and oxygen sent their way, which helps them rebuild. “The feet carry all the weight, therefore it’s necessary to pamper your feet.”