If you’re going to unwind or just to work out the kinks, make sure you find the right massage for your needs. Often they can be customized to address any concerns you may have and to make the massage perfect for you. Wear what feels comfortable to get the most out of your experience and be sure to speak up about what feels good and what doesn’t - this experience is all about you! Find out what type of massage is right for you in our comprehensive guide.
Massage reduces cortisol. This is a much more specific idea than “massage reduces stress.” Cortisol, the “stress hormone,” is justifiably perceived as a villain, and reducing it is often touted as a meaningful rescue from being run-down, chronically anxious or depressed, or in pain. Unfortunately, the evidence that massage actually does anything helpful to cortisol production is conflicting and inconclusive at best, and commonly cited research to support it has major flaws.63 Even in the unlikely event that massage actually does reduce cortisol levels, the phsyiology of stress is much too complex to assume cortisol reduction is in itself a meaningful, good thing. Cortisol levels after a massage do not give a meaningful picture of the organism, and there is no direct relationship between a temporary cortisol reduction and any health benefit. What matters is cortisol levels over time, but even that isn’t exactly straightforward: stress and cortisol have a complex and chaotic relationship regulated by many variables out of our control.

I relax just fine when I'm away on vacation, but in daily life, my to-dos come first. "In our work-driven culture, we perceive relaxation as nonproductive—it often becomes a reward for getting stuff done," says Kathleen Hall, PhD, founder and CEO of the Stress Institute in Atlanta and the Mindful Living Network. Trouble is, the tasks are never-ending (hashtag Sisyphus). Add in a jam-packed schedule and it's no wonder leisure time morphs into chore time.


I am a science writer, former massage therapist, and I was the assistant editor at ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I have had my share of injuries and pain challenges as a runner and ultimate player. My wife and I live in downtown Vancouver, Canada. See my full bio and qualifications, or my blog, Writerly. You might run into me on Facebook or Twitter.


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In any case, the whole notion that you want or need to get rid of lactic acid in the first place is just bogus. Lactic acid is not the cause of muscle pain at any time except the immediate aftermath of intense exercise (and probably not even then). Research has shown that muscle fatigue and the “burn” that you feel as you exercise intensely is probably caused by calcium physiology, not an accumulation of lactic acid.67 In particular, lactic acid does not cause soreness the day after exercise — yet another myth, and a particularly bad one that will just not die!68
In the summer of 2009, I attended the Science-Based Medicine conference and The Amazing Meeting 7 in Las Vegas: a huge gathering of skeptics, scientists, and critical thinkers. I was the only alternative health care professional at the conference that I know of. I introduced myself publicly to a couple hundred doctors and scientists as a “skeptical massage therapist.” They were delighted, and for the next four days, skeptics approached me regularly to say, “Hey, that was brave! But massage isn’t quackery, is it?”
Massage detoxifies or flushes lactic acid from your muscles. Detoxification myths are among the most embarrassing of all massage myths. “Detoxification” sounds good and means little or nothing. There are such things as toxins in the world, but not only is massage unable to “flush” any that matter from the body, it likely produces a mildly toxic state known as rhabdomyolysis.58 But if you challenge massage therapists to name a “toxin” that they are “flushing,” most will name lactic acid, not rhabdomyolysis. And again, the truth is ironically the reverse of to the myth: evidence has actually shown that massage interferes with lactic acid elimination. See the lactic acid section below.
This review of 35 tests of treatments for delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is strongly consistent with my own past interpretations of the research: basically, nothing works. Massage is “slightly effective” but “its mean effect was too small to be of clinical relevance.” The evidence for cryotherapy, stretching, and low-intensity exercise is not promising, but technically still inconclusive: more study needed.
Pre-event. Pre-event sports massage is given within the four hours preceding an event to improve performance and help decrease injuries. It is used as a supplement to an athlete's warm-up to enhance circulation and reduce excess muscle and mental tension prior to competition. It is normally shorter (10-15 minutes) than a regular conditioning massage, and focuses on warming-up the major muscles to be used, and getting the athlete in a good mental state for competition. It also improves tissue pliability, readying the athlete for top performance. Certain massage techniques can help calm a nervous athlete, and others can be stimulating. Pre-event. Pre-event sports massage is given within the four hours preceding an event to improve performance and help decrease injuries. It is used as a supplement to an athlete's warm-up to enhance circulation and reduce excess muscle and mental tension prior to competition. It is normally shorter (10-15 minutes) than a regular conditioning massage, and focuses on warming-up the major muscles to be used, and getting the athlete in a good mental state for competition. It also improves tissue pliability, readying the athlete for top performance. Certain massage techniques can help calm a nervous athlete, and others can be stimulating.

Recovery. Therapeutic massage helps the body recover from the stresses of strenuous exercise, and facilitates the rebuilding phase of conditioning. The physiological benefits of massage include improved blood and lymph circulation, muscle relaxation, and general relaxation. These, in turn, lead to removal of waste products and better cell nutrition, normalization and greater elasticity of tissues, deactivation of trigger points, and faster healing of injuries. It all adds up to relief from soreness and stiffness, better flexibility, and less potential for future injury.
“If your hands and fingers start to scream while you're working, you need to modify what you're doing,” says Bykofsky. “Also, if you notice that you’re sore at the end of your work day, Bykofsky also recommends that you “do the things you suggest to your clients: ice, apply something to help, perhaps take an anti-inflammatory, and, the hard one, rest!”  
If this theory is correct, or even half-right, it would go a long way to explain the strong appeal of massage — maybe it actually can take the edge off a great variety of problems — but also its inability to work miracles. If trigger points are the main reason massage seems at least a little bit helpful in so many cases, they are also the reason that the results are so unpredictable. The best ways to treat trigger points are simply unknown, and it may be next to impossible. All trigger point therapy is guesswork. Therapists have greatly variable education, skill, and luck in this process. Most simply aren’t that good at it — they can’t be, because muscle pain physiology is obscure, complex, and basically way out of their league.80
Deep tissue massages are usually “cross-grain,” moving against the muscles to relieve aches or pains rather than moving  with them. This can sometimes feel a bit more painful as a result compared to standard “relaxation massages.” However, the pressure involved in deep massages is actually a good thing. It provides many of the benefits that this type of therapeutic massage has to offer. Deep tissue massages also tend to be slower-paced and longer than many other massages, ideally about 1.5 hours long, which gives bodily tissue enough time to warm up and then relax.
The recipient wears loose, comfortable clothing and lies on a mat or firm mattress on the floor. In Thailand, a dozen or so subjects may be receiving massage simultaneously in one large room. The true ancient style of the massage requires that the massage be performed solo with just the giver and receiver. The receiver will be positioned in a variety of yoga-like positions during the course of the massage, that is also combined with deep static and rhythmic pressures.

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The slow movements allow for the mind and the spirit to slow down and realize a true form of relaxation. It centers the individual. In doing this stressors will not affect the person as much. This will aid to level out blood pressure. These stressors, in later life, cause heart problems. In centering oneself, and lowering the reaction to stressors, one will lower the occurrence of heart problems.

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