Lactic acid is not a dead-end, “bad” metabolic waste product, and it does not cause post-exercise soreness. This is a pernicious and seemingly un-killable myth. It originated with “one of the classic mistakes in the history of science,” according to George Brooks, a Berkley physiologist. I will not give the myth any further air time here. See Gina Kolata’s clear overview in the New York Times, or a concise professional summary by Robergs in Experimental Phsyiology. For a deeper and geekier, but excellent read, see Dr. Goodwin’s entertaining rant about the prevalence of the lactate myth in the 2012 summer Olympics coverage. BACK TO TEXT
Many students at my school were actually angry that things like therapeutic touch were even being taught. I recall some heated debates between skeptical students and more “open-minded” instructors and school officials. It may surprise you to hear that I was not one of the skeptics back in those days — it was only just starting for me then. BACK TO TEXT
There have been very few studies of pre-event sports massage. In 2018, a rare example of it had a clear negative conclusion,71 echoing the findings of a couple earlier ones.7273 It’s a very small study, but it’s still a useful contribution74 (and it's not actually the first such evidence). Seventeen sprinters were tested with four combinations of massage, dynamic warmup, and an ultrasound placebo and found that “massage decreased 60-meter sprint performance in comparison to the traditional warm-up.”
There is not necessarily a hard line between these two techniques, and many sessions often incorporate both depending on your needs. It is usually the case that not all the muscles in your body need deep tissue techniques applied. Rather than being overly concerned with choosing the “right” session, make sure you communicate to your therapist the goals for your session so that he or she can customize the right blend of techniques for you. One massage style is often the foundation of the session, with other techniques used as needed. Due to the slow pace of deep tissue massage it is necessary to schedule a 90-minute session if you would like your full body addressed. Use these guidelines for communication based on your primary goal for the session:
But the relief model is certainly tempting. There are many painful-but-relieving analogies in medicine and biology.15 That’s similar to what good pain in massage feels like, but it’s not the same: no one thinks that lancing a boil or popping a shoulder joint back in is anything but painful while it’s happening.16 And we can’t necessarily take the good pain sensation at face value and assume it means there’s actually going to be a positive outcome. Brains are not all-knowing. Sometimes they see danger where there is none, and sometimes they see help where there is none.
Dr. Stephen Barrett is a prominent anti-quackery activist. In an article on his popular website, QuackWatch, Barrett condemns common non-massage practices in massage therapy, but not massage itself: “ordinary massage and the legitimate practice of massage therapy should not be categorized as quackery.”47 That’s surprising tolerance from such a fierce critic of questionable health care.
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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; others can be stimulating. Post-event sports massage is given after a competition and is mainly focused on recovery. It is geared toward reducing muscle spasms and metabolic build-up that occur with vigorous exercise. Recovery after competition involves not only tissue normalization and repair, but also general relaxation and mental calming. A recovery session can range from 15 minutes to 1.5 hours in length. For more, see our Comprehensive Guide to Massage.
The psychoanalyst David Morgan, of the Institute of Psychoanalysis, believes that for many of us this deadening retreat to our screens is both a reason for and a consequence of the fact that we no longer know how to relax and enjoy ourselves. Our screens and what we use them for are all techniques of distraction, he says. “People have got so used to looking for distraction that they actually cannot stand an evening with themselves. It is a way of not seeing oneself, because to have insight into oneself requires mental space, and all these distraction techniques are used as a way of avoiding getting close to the self.”
An Indian physician named Shivago Kumar Bhucca, a contemporary of the Buddha, is often credited with developing Thai massage. The impetus was to give monks and nuns the flexibility to sit for long hours in meditation. Whatever its genesis, massage was considered such a crucial aspect of medical treatment in Thailand that until the early 20th century, the Thai Department of Health included an official massage division. Thai massage is based on releasing blockages along ten lines of energy called sen, which are similar to the meridians of traditional Chinese medicine. The technique incorporates stroking and kneading of muscles, manipulation of joints, and pressure applied to specific points in order to balance the body’s four elements—earth, water, fire, and air. But there’s also rocking, breathing, and lots of stretching—Thai massage is often referred to as “lazy yoga.”
This may come as a surprise, but in fact there is no therapeutic benefit to stretching skin so hard that it feels like it is going to tear! And it is a completely different and uglier sensation than how fascial stretching can feel and should feel (more like a good massage). When I complained about this (politely), the therapists made no distinction between skin-tearing and fascial stretching, and more or less tried to tell me that I was objecting to perfectly good therapy. Needless to say, I never returned to those therapists.
I am a science writer and a former Registered Massage Therapist with a decade of experience treating tough pain cases. I was the Assistant Editor of ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I’ve written hundreds of articles and several books, and I’m known for readable but heavily referenced analysis, with a touch of sass. I am a runner and ultimate player. • more about me • more about PainScience.com
Massage therapists, and others in the holistic arts … seem to be a particularly gullible bunch. And there are a lot of people who have seized upon that, and marketed their products, their classes, their modalities, and their wild claims to us … and many of us have fallen for it, hook, line and sinker … and unfortunately, gone on to convince our clients to buy into it, as well. … Our profession has turned into the snake oil medicine show.
Meditation is often seen as a great way to relax, and many studies back up that idea. In a meta-analysis looking at several studies of relaxation training in people with anxiety, the observed effects of meditation were greater than those observed for other intentional relaxation techniques, such as autogenic training (a process that involves making your body feel heavy and warm) and applied relaxation. Other studies have also outlined its effect as an anti-anxiety and antidepressant method.
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There is so much uncertainty that it is fair and reasonable to ask if we can really say much of anything about massage based on such incomplete and imperfect evidence. We can, in fact, but it all must be done with our eyes wide open and a lot of qualifiers and hedging of bets. We can’t be certain of anything … but we can certainly be informed by the evidence so far.
“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.”
Oppel L. Is massage therapy genuinely effective? CMAJ. 2000 Oct;163(8):953; author reply 953–4. PubMed #11068563. PainSci #52962. Incidentally, Dr. Oppel is an acquaintance of mine, and — more importantly — a super sharp guy with a lot of experience with critical analysis. I place a lot of faith in his judgement. If Lloyd says Preyde’s experiment is critically flawed and actually tells us massage does not work, I am inclined to agree. And inclined to be sad about it. BACK TO TEXT
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication or have a medical condition.
Full disclosure: I was a Registered Massage Therapist with a busy practice in downtown Vancouver from 2000–2010. Since then, I have made my living writing about musculoskeletal medicine and pain science, with a reputation for a skeptical perspective. This article is biased in the direction of debunking, but I also have a real soft spot for massage therapy, and still make a large percentage of my income from selling a book about trigger point therapy — a popular idea in massage that is maligned by many other skeptics (and with good reason). So I actually have competing, complicated biases. I try to compensate for them by sticking to what the evidence can support, and clearly identifying speculation and experimental therapy for what it is. BACK TO TEXT
A licensed massage therapist should ask you about your health history before the massage. Thai massage may not be safe for someone with health conditions such as disk herniation, osteoporosis, recent surgery, or cardiovascular disease. If you're considering trying Thai massage, it's a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before getting treatment to discuss whether it's appropriate for you.
Commit to a regular enjoyable activity, like a monthly racquetball game or cooking class, with your partner or friends. "You're more likely to follow through on a commitment to someone else than to yourself," notes Schulte. "It leaves you no choice but to relax!" One of the rare times when I truly unwind: my bimonthly girls' game night, where we play Scattergories, snack extensively, and laugh our heads off. But thanks to all this inspiration, I no longer have to wait weeks to relax for real.
This is not only an inaccurate and potentially harmful picture of this type of therapy, but such misguided practices can bruise muscles, elicit a defensive reaction in a client’s body, and worsen pain cycles. Properly executed deep tissue work should not cause the client to grit their teeth in agony as the therapist coerces the body into submission! If you find yourself clenching, shortening or holding your breath, or gritting your teeth, then it’s TOO DEEP. Even when it gets intense, it should not go above about a 7 on the pain scale: enough to “hurt so good,” but not enough that you want to leap off the table (and never come back).
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While a typical runner’s sports massage focuses primarily on the legs, Denunzio insists on incorporating upper body work as well. As she explains it, “nobody has perfect form, especially when they’re fatigued” and runners can unknowingly tense their upper bodies when working out, which in turn creates tightness in their arms, shoulders and back. Ideally, those areas should receive a little TLC as well.
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.
The need for some simple source of relaxation can be seen in the initial surge in popularity of the adult colouring book, as well as last year’s 13.3% increase in sales of books providing spiritual guidance on how to live in a hectic world, and the mindfulness “mega trend” seen in Headspace, the meditation app that has been downloaded more than 15m times. Those of us who spent our money on these products were presumably searching for answers to some of the same questions – and many of us are still looking. The bottom has now dropped out of the colouring book market, with Forbes declaring it “dead” in May, and, in June last year, Headspace laid off 13 staff members.
I saw a few chiropractors and acupuncturists. But despite some initial short relief, their work seemed to lose effectiveness after a few visits. I went to a massage therapist, whose treatment actually was the opposite of my experiences with neurologists: It was enjoyable. This was the beginning of what I called a foray into “recreational medicine.”
A traditional Swedish massage involves the whole body. You will begin on either your back or your stomach and flip over at the halfway point. If you have an area of particular concern, such as a tight neck, you can ask your therapist to spend more time in this area. Depending on your preferences, you can ask your massage therapist to use light, medium, or firm pressure.
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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.
Straightforward palpatory pareidolia. Pareidolia is a type of illusion or broken perception in which a vague or obscure stimulus — i.e. subtle textures under your skin — is perceived as if it was clear and distinct. Pareidolia is what makes naive Christians spot Jesus in a T-shirt stain, and why Percival Lowell thought he could see canals on Mars. BACK TO TEXT
Adequate recovery is also a major factor in avoiding the over-training syndrome. Over-training is characterized by irritability, apathy, altered appetite, increased frequency of injury, increased resting heart rate, and/or insomnia. It occurs when the body is not allowed to recover adequately between bouts of heavy exercise. Therapeutic massage helps you avoid over-training by facilitating recovery through general relaxation, and its other physiological effects.
The therapist may utilize some Swedish techniques to warm up the tissues (kneading, friction, percussion), softening the superficial layers so that he or she can access the deeper ones more easily. Then, with little or no lotion, the therapist utilizes the hard surfaces of their hands and arms — surfaces such as fingers, knuckles, forearms, and elbows — and employs a very slow, sustained type of stroke.
During a hot stone massage the therapist heats stones of varying sizes to 120–140º F, rubs them over your oiled body, and rests them on top of and beneath you—on your stomach, in your palms, on your back. The stones’ warmth enhances the relaxing effects of the pressure. Some people believe the stones have healing, grounding qualities, which makes hot stone massage a more profound experience than your basic massage. The therapist will leave some of the smooth, heated massage stones in contact with your body and use others to massage you.
The benefits of a sports massage are numerous: improved flexibility, reduced risk of injury, and a boosted circulatory system, just to name a few. But bodywork isn’t a one-size-fits all tool, and there are certain things to consider before booking an appointment. Here, three runner-trusted massage therapists impart important pre-massage knowledge.
Even if you do yoga, meditate and perform other stress-reducing activities, calm may allude you. Instead of getting a prescription for Xanax, try a natural supplement to relax. There are several herbs you can take in a nice cup of tea that could give you the sedative effect you need during times of hardship. Examples of such herbs are Chamomile, Valerian, and Kava. Generally, one teaspoon of dried herbs or three tablespoons of fresh herb to one cup of water is a beneficial amount. Most herbs should steep for 5 to 10 minutes.
Note that this study compares a more vigorous sports massage style with more common Swedish petrissage techniques. Vigorous massage did indeed show significantly increased circulation! However, this technique is rarely used — the vast majority of Registered Massage Therapists in British Columbia rarely treat their clients with vigorous sports massage techniques, yet they still have a habit of claiming that massage increases circulation.
Whether you’re an athlete with a daily high demand placed on your body or recovering from an injury or illness, deep tissue massage likely has some benefits to offer you. Massages have been utilized for thousands of years throughout the world to lower both physical and psychological stress. And today, research continues to show that whether used alone or in conjunction with other treatments, massage therapy is an effective way to help treat common conditions like arthritis, anxiety and chronic lower back pain.
The Thai Ministry of Public Health's Department for Development of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine regulates Thai traditional massage venues and practitioners. As of 2016 the department says 913 traditional clinics have registered nationwide in Thailand. As of 2018, of the 8,000 to 10,000 spa and massage shops in Thailand, only 4,228 are certified by the Health Ministry's Department of Health Service Support (HSS).
I stayed there as the administrator and an instructor for five years after I graduated, and during that period of time, I could not possibly even name all the things I went through. I had a lot of psychic readings. I availed myself of EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), an invention of Dr. Mercola, [sic]84 which basically consists of tapping on meridian points in order to relieve emotional negativity, food cravings, and pain. I tried Aura Soma, which is described as “color healing.” I got tuned up with tuning forks, and crystal bowls. I participated in one workshop called Matterspeak, which consisted of sitting around chanting random words, letters, and numbers for 8 hours, as in “1263supercalifragilisti789.” I don’t remember what the purpose of that was and frankly doubt that it had any purpose, other than to enrich the teacher’s pocketbook. If memory serves, she had “channeled” that information from the Atlanteans. I also used the chi machines, the detox foot baths and pads, biofeedback and all kinds of computer programs designed to balance your body, mind and spirit, and most New Agey-sounding things in existence at the time. If it was out there, I tried it. All kinds of “healers” came and went through the school.
You may also have your own unique trouble spots, perhaps from past injuries. A massage therapist can pay special attention to these areas, monitor them for developing problems, and help keep them in good condition. An experienced massage therapist can also compliment treatment received from other health care professionals for various injuries. You may also have your own unique trouble spots, perhaps from past injuries. A massage therapist can pay special attention to these areas, monitor them for developing problems, and help keep them in good condition. An experienced massage therapist can also compliment treatment received from other health care professionals for various injuries.
Thank you so much for your article The Pressure Question in Massage Therapy. I just read it all. I went for a sports massage two weeks ago as I was recommended to have one as it was suggested it might help with tight calves, a side effect of some other injuries I have. I’ve been for sports massages many, many times before over the years. This one was one of the most painful experiences of my life — when I got home I was almost sick and felt in shock. My right achilles tendon was raging and it’s been bad ever since. It hurt so much when it was done (like someone was sticking knives in) and I kept asking if it was meant to hurt. I wish I’d just stopped the session or objected but I didn’t. It used to be a bad injury that affected me walking for about 6 months so I’m just devastated about this. I can hardly bear to put shoes on and its all this time on. I know there are good practitioners out there but experiences like this just make me want to stay away. I wish I’d gone to a “gentle” one.