Friday, July 23, 2010

The importance of foot massages

Recently I've been working through what I consider the things/activities in my life that I really value, and the time and expense I put into them. One of my valuable activities is running. I won't go into a lengthy explanation as to why, nor do I even think someone needs to explain something like this. Suffice to say that when I run, barefoot, I feel alive. Therefore, I want to do it a lot.

The main goals that involve running are trying to run a marathon a month, with the intention of pushing myself to try an ultra-marathon next summer. When I was reflecting on possible problems that might come up that would prevent me from fulfilling these goals, a big one was injuries, either unforeseen and uncontrollable ones, to possibly 'Too Much Too Soon' types in which I might have more control over. This may seem kind of basic, but in doing this, I realized that one way of resolving, or preventing, possible injuries, is to take care of my feet. In other words, if running is one of the most important things I do in my life, and running is dependent on the health of my feet, I should be devoting effort, time, and even money to taking care of my feet. One good way, maybe the best way I can do that is with a foot massage.

Even though I did try foot massages as part of my treatments for my plantar fasciitis a few years ago, and even though they seemed to be the one thing that made an actual improvement, I resisted getting foot massages once I started running barefoot. My feet were getting better, much better actually, through BF running, so in part I felt a foot massage wasn't needed any more. But also, I was poor, a part-time composition instructor, and foot massages just seemed like a luxury, something only fully-employed rich people could indulge in. A miracle happened and I was hired full-time, starting this Fall. So, once I knew I would be earning an actual real salary, I decided to indulge in a foot massage, as a treat to myself.

Well, the foot massage was amazing. My feet have been pretty hammered this Summer, due to me slipping out of my original running style over the Winter. I went to The Relax Station in downtown Ann Arbor on a Monday, the day after my usual long day of running, in which I did a medium/longer run in the morning, then another shorter one with hills in the afternoon. And, I can't explain this scientifically, or maybe even really accurately, but the massage left my feet feeling like I'd given them a couple days rest. It seemed to help, or speed up, the healing process.

So, I went the next week. Again, my feet felt better.

The cost of the massages I had during my bout of plantar fasciitis, at a Chinese massage place at Briarwood Mall (where actually I think the not-really-trained 'therapists' are illegal chinese immigrants, perhaps being exploited-though I'm not sure) was $20 for a half-hour, plus a $5 tip. The Relax Station, in downtown Ann Arbor, is $30 + $5 tip, but the therapists are actually trained. Quality does seem to vary but that means only that a massage either feels 'good' or 'really good'!. I'm still trying to figure out my new, enlarged, salary and budget, and I still want to be frugal and save, but with my running goals, and with my acknowledgement that running is a huge part of my life, I've decided that there's no way I can't spend money on foot massages.

Ideally, I'd like to find a way to have foot massages covered by insurance, if I could get it. Massages themselves aren't covered by insurance, unfortunately, but I do know some insurance policies cover chiropractic visits, and that some chiropractic offices also have massage therapists on staff, so that's one way.

If money is really an issue (and believe me, for the past five years or so, it has been a major issue for me), one alternative might be to trade foot massages with other people, either significant others, and/or friends. There is info on the internet about massage, and reflexology (a slightly different thing, sort of) techniques, which could be used to practice with. The problem is, foot massage is considered, and maybe just is, very intimate (remember the debate in the movie Pulp Fiction?), which may be more than a regular friendship could cover, especially for us guys, but if you do have a significant other, use them! It can be quite erotic, and can lead to other good things.

Another possibility, by itself or in additional more formal massages, is self massage. No, not that kind, though I do some of that too (some ex-gfs have accuses me of too much). What I mean is that at night in bed, while I read, I'm also scrunched up like a pretzel probing and squeezing my feet with one hand while holding a book with the other. Also, in the mornings when I first wake up, I may give my feet a quick pass. And, since I go barefoot most everywhere, sometimes I even rub them while sitting at a table in a café.

Also, I do use one 'tool' for massaging my feet, which I've talked about before, and which was about the only useful thing I bought during my plantar fasciitis woes: A set of handball balls. They're small blue rubber balls, can be bought at sporting goods stores (though I bought mine through a foot health website, which I can't seem to find anymore) for about twelve dollars. Every night, I take them out and spend a few minutes standing on them, moving my feet around to give a massage to all parts of the soles. The way the website explained it is that this stretches the plantar fascia out before a person lays down for the night, because plantar fasciitis is, in part, caused by the fascia kind of shrinking up while we're horizontal and inactive (hence plantar fasciitis seems to be more noticeable in the mornings). Of all the inserts and shoe doo-dads I spent my money on, these little balls were the best investment. Note: they were not recommended by a doctor. Nor was a foot massage. Which I find kind of mind-boggling. How could a doctor NOT recommend a good foot massage? Answer: not covered by insurance, and there's no way the doctor could make money on that type of recommendation.

I know guys especially might be a little freaked out about a foot massage, or massages in general, and/or may consider them a girly-man thing to do. I've been lucky enough to have a couple massage therapist girlfriends in my life, so I got past that idea quickly. My last massage at The Relax Station was with a guy, and I admit I did hesitate a second, but he was very cool, and it felt great. In any case, for any runner, but especially us barefoot runners, I'm arguing that you indulge in a foot massage. Not only that, I'm arguing that, it shouldn't even be considered an indulgence. It may almost be a necessity.