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 involves relaxing your muscles in a two-step process. Identify each muscle group, starting with your toes and moving up. First tense the muscle or muscle group. Then release and relax them. Notice how you feel as you release the tension. You can do this with your fists, neck, shoulder and pretty much any other muscle you are able to control. But progressively moving up the body, one muscle group at a time, will be most effective.
You’d hope this sort of thing would be rare, but it’s not. Readers regularly tell me about massage therapists who do not ask them what they want, who dismiss their patients’ concerns about pressure, and who ignore signs that their clients are in pain. They display a “doctor knows best” arrogance — ironic for an alternative health care professional — imposing their own idea of the “right” intensity.
And, as many critics have pointed out, massage is a super expensive way to relax. On average, professional massage therapists charge about a buck a minute — vastly more than millions of people can afford on a regular basis. This economic perspective is often completely ignored in discussions of whether or not massage works. It probably does … but does it work well enough for the price? A nap is also quite relaxing, and a lot cheaper. If massage is to be considered a more cost-effective treatment for any medical problem than napping, we really must establish that it does more — quite a lot more — than just mellow people out.
AD 1776: Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, and Pierre-Martial Cibot, French missionaries in China translate summaries of Huangdi Neijing, including a list of medical plants, exercises and elaborate massage techniques, into the French language, thereby introducing Europe to the highly developed Chinese system of medicine, medical-gymnastics, and medical-massage.
Reducing dislocated joints; stretching muscle cramps; warming up freezing hands and feet, or restoring circulation to a leg that has fallen asleep; and nearly anything that relieves awful pressure, like lancing boils and cysts or hematomas under toenails, or childbirth, or evacuation of impacted bowels — all very painful, but also very relieving. BACK TO TEXT
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
Just a square (about 1.4 ounces) of the sweet stuff can calm your nerves. Dark chocolate regulates levels of the stress hormone cortisol and stabilizes metabolism Metabolic effects of dark chocolate consumption on energy, gut microbiota, and stress-related metabolism in free-living subjects. Nestle Research Center, Vers-chez-les-Blanc, Lausanne, Switzerland. Journal of Proteome Research 2009;8(12):5568-79..
“What is an ice cream walk? Great question. The process is pretty simple. Step one: exit your abode to go for a walk. Step two: walk toward an ice cream shop — any ice cream shop. Step three: order an ice cream. Step four: eat ice cream. Impromptu walks are one of my favorite ways to clear my head, but adding ice cream into the mix makes it feel like an intentional way of treating myself, literally and figuratively. I recommend Van Leeuwen if you happen to be ice cream-walking in NYC.”
Sports massage is a form of bodywork geared toward participants in athletics. It is used to help prevent injuries, to prepare the body for athletic activity and maintain it in optimal condition, and to help athletes recover from workouts and injuries. Sports massage has three basic forms: pre-event massage, post-event massage, and maintenance massage.
The owner of the school collected (and sold) crystals, and used them for healing purposes. I ended up amassing quite a collection of my own, using them to do chakra balances on people, performing psychic surgery with them, and any number of woo procedures. I also purchased magnetic pads for my massage table. I attended homeopathy workshops. I got heavily into essential oils, which I still love and use today—with the caveat that while I think many of them are useful as folk remedies for various simple ailments, I’m not going to advise someone with cancer that they can cure it with an oil, which unbelievably, I notice massage therapists doing all the time—and worse—on social media.
Unfortunately, the results of this study were actually negative: the data showed that massage has no significant effect on gene expression in muscle cells. There are several major problems with the study: the sample size was extremely small; the number of changes they found was trivial (and dwarfed by what exercise causes); the size of the differences was barely statistically significant—and short-lived, too; they measured genetic “signals” and not actual results, and guessed about their meaning; and we already know from clinical trials that massage doesn’t work any miracles for soreness after exercise, so what is there for the data to “explain”? Despite all of these problems, the results were spun as an explanation for how massage works in general — in the paper itself, the abstract, the journal’s summary, the press release, and interviews. Consequently, the results have been widely reported and discussed as if it is now a scientific fact that massage actually does reduce pain and promote recovery, and the only question was “how?” It’s a debacle.
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The massages are geared towards athletes and their sports. For instance, working on a runner will require doing a lot of leg work, but the upper body work will be minimal. Moreover, massages will target those areas that tend to become injured. For example, a massage session with a tennis player will involve a forearm massage that is preventive in the development of tennis elbow. If necessary, a whole session could be spent only on important areas, and skip completely muscles that are not overused in a particular sport.
We usually need to relax when we are feeling tense, anxious, or angry. Part of these feelings are due to an activation of something called the sympathetic nervous system, which includes parts of your brain that detect and respond to threats and stress. Without getting too deep into the physiology, when you are tense, anxious, or angry, your sympathetic nervous system is activated, and your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes rapid and shallow, your blood pressure increases, your digestion stops, your muscles tense, your circulation changes, stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline, among others) are released in your blood stream, and your thoughts speed up and focus on a target (read more about that in Three Frames of Mind). When this is happening, our bodies feel unpleasant and we look for ways to feel better.
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There are several types of massage that focus on different parts of the body or healing approaches. Massage is the practice of rubbing and kneading the body using the hands. During a massage, a massage therapist will apply gentle or strong pressure to the muscles and joints of the body to ease pain and tension. A massage therapist is a person trained in giving massages.
No question: actually boosting performance would be a big deal, a humungous deal! But the cited evidence doesn’t remotely substantiate such a mighty claim. Even if we take that evidence at face value, it’s a huge and oversimplified reach to conclude that “a little increased range of motion” constitutes a meaningful effect on athletic performance as a whole. I can increase my ROM with a few seconds of stretching, too … and stretching does not enhance performance (look it up).
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Plus, this is not the kind of study where a large number of subjects is needed to be convincing. Of course, replication and more subjects are always a critical part of science. But the claim of detoxification is what we call a “brittle” claim — it breaks easily, because anything less than a clear positive effect is not enough to impress anyone. For brittle claims, even just a lack of effect is always news, because there should be a worthwhile effect, according to the claim. In this case the claim is that massage meaningfully reduces lactic acid … and in this experiment, it didn’t just fail to have an effect, it had the opposite effect. That evidence is definitely news, whether it’s proof or not. BACK TO TEXT
Having a massage every few weeks is a great way to reduce muscle tension and get pampered at the same time. Massage helps relax the mind and body, and a skilled massage therapist can find your problem spots and get them under control. Often combined with aromatherapy and meditation, a massage is a wonderful way to melt your stress away and can help with some forms of chronic pain.
A boyfriend or girlfriend is okay, but they’re (usually) not furry enough. After a rough day, snuggle up with a pet for an instant slobbery smile, since pets can boost self-esteem and even ease the sting of social rejection Friends with benefits: on the consequences of pet ownership. McDonnell, A.R., Brown, C.M., Shoda, T.M. Department of Psychology, Miami University, Oxford, OH. Journal of Personaality and Social Psychology 2011;101(6):1239-52..
“Massage therapy may be effective for treatment of chronic back pain, with benefits lasting at least 6 months”: A strongly positive summary, barely tempered by the word “may.” Unfortunately, their evidence does not really support such a sunny conclusion. In fact, their data showed that the benefits of massage were minor to begin with, and barely detectable after six months. Worse still, there’s that lack of blinding thing again. They concede the flaw but fail to acknowledge its serious implicates: if anything, as with Michele Preyde’s study, it flips the story, from good news to a depressing evidence of absence.
Thank you for explaining the difference between a deep tissue massage and a firm pressure massage. The place I go to offers different techniques and I have been wondering what the difference was between those two. Good to know that a deep tissue massage uses very little to no lubricant so the muscles can be hooked and grabbed. That one sounds like a really great option.
Due to this techniques harsher pressure, there are certain individuals who should seek pain relief elsewhere. Deep Tissue massages can be dangerous for clients who have blood clots, as the pressure and movements might cause the clots to be dislodged. If you have had blood clots in the past, currently have blood clots or are at risk of forming blood clots, you should consult a doctor before pursuing a Deep Tissue massage. If you are currently recovering from recent surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or are suffering from osteoporosis you too should speak with a doctor before experimenting with Deep Tissue massages. As this is particularly high pressure massage, you should not allow rashes, wounds, tumors, hernias, etc. to be massaged directly. Expecting mothers should also avoid Deep Tissue massages; instead, ask your doctor about therapists that specialize in pregnancy massage techniques.
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Jason DeAntonis is an award-winning Bay Area artist, known for his sumi ink illustrations, and his fine carpentry and custom furniture. He has also worked in sculpture, costume design, glass blowing, painting, printmaking, and book illustration. His work has appeared in Mindfulness in the Garden, How to Sit, How to Eat, How to Walk, How to Love, and How to Relax. He lives in Berkeley, California.