There are 364 new emails in the inbox, those new pants are covered in scalding coffee, and the next conference call starts in exactly five minutes. In other words, it’s the perfect time to relax. When we’re feeling frazzled, a weekend at a beach resort might be just the thing to calm our nerves. But there isn’t always time for tanning, let alone sleeping, eating, or going to the bathroom. Luckily we’ve rounded up 40 ways to relax and relieve stress in just five minutes or less. From sipping tea to trying some pranayama breathing, all these tactics can create calm during tough times.
Wiltshire et al subjected 12 people to intense hand-gripping exercises to boost blood levels of lactic acid and other waste products of muscle physiology. Then they measured those substances with and without the subjects receiving basic sports massage. Their data showed that massage significantly “impairs lactic acid and hydrogen ion removal from muscle following strenuous exercise by mechanically impeding blood flow.”

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There are dozens of lines of evidence showing that structural treatment concepts of all kinds have failed to deliver the goods over the decades (see the structuralism article). But one recent large study of massage — the big back pain one described above (Cherkin) — produced particularly clear evidence that structuralist-style massage does not work. (And yet again, there’s an entire other article covering this in greater detail: the remainder of this section is just a summary.)
Connective tissue stimulation. A lot of therapists are keen on stretching connective tissues — tendons, ligaments, and layers of Saran wrap-like tissue called “fascia.” I’m not a huge fan of this style, but certainly it’s a way of generating many potent and novel sensations, which may be inherently valuable to us — another form of touch. Although “improving” the fascia itself is implausible and unproven, perhaps fascial manipulations affect bodies indirectly, just as a sailboat is affected by pulling on its rigging. People have written whole books full of speculation along these lines. So, as long as the sensations are not like skin tearing (that’s an ugly pain for sure), you might choose to tolerate this kind of massage if it seems to be helping you.

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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
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.
This review is called a meta-analysis, which is weird, because “only 1 study met inclusion criteria for intrarater agreement and therefore no meta-analysis was performed.” So it was just a regular old review of 6 studies of how much different experts can agree on the location of myofascial trigger points. Lacking adequate data for statistical pooling, they had to “estimate” an agreement score of 𝛋=0.452 — a rather precise etimate! Of the criteria used to determine the location of trigger points, the most reliable were localized tenderness (.68) and pain recognition (.57). Those are actually decent reliability scores, but the authors conclude that “manual palpation for identification of MTrPs is unreliable.” Based on their estimated scores, this is technically correct but a bit misleading: most attempts to detect pathologies in the body are technically “unreliable,” falling well short of a score of κ=1.0 (perfect agreement), but still much better than κ=0 (coin flipping agreement).
“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.”
When there’s no professional masseuse in sight, try DIYing a hand massage for instant relaxation that calms a pounding heart The effects measurement of hand massage by the autonomic activity and psychological indicators. Kunikata, H., Watanabe, K., Miyoshi, M., et al. Department of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, Kawaga Prefectural University of Health Sciences, Kagawa, Japan. The Journal of Medical Investigation 2012;59(1-2):206-12.. Massages can be especially helpful for people who spend a lot of time typing on a keyboard. Hands in general can carry a lot of tension. Apply some luxurious lotion and start kneading the base of the muscle under the thumb to relieve stress in the shoulders, neck, and scalp.
Massage is not a detox treatment. If anything, it’s the opposite! Post-massage soreness and malaise (PMSM) is probably caused by mild rhabdomyolysis (“rhabdo”). True rhabdo is a medical emergency caused by muscle crush injuries. But milder stresses cause milder rhabdo — even just intense exercise can do it. And massage! We know this from a good formal case study, several informal ones, common exertional rhabdo, and the similarities between PMSM and ordinary exercise soreness. A rhabdo cocktail of waste metabolites and by-products of tissue damage is probably why we feel cruddy after any intense biological stress or trauma — but they can’t be “flushed” away by massage (or by drinking water). See Poisoned by Massage: Rather than being DE-toxifying, deep tissue massage can probably cause a slightly toxic situation in the body. BACK TO TEXT

If you are dealing with a serious injury, and don’t have a diagnosis, definitely see a sports doctor. “Massage therapists do not diagnose,” says Denunzio. “It’s not part of our discipline.” And while a therapist can identify and attempt to alleviate any tightness and inflammation in the body, if a problem area doesn’t feel significantly better three days post-massage, you should likely consult a sports doctor then, as well. Once a diagnosis is given, your massage therapist can work with that information and use massage as a helpful tool in recovery.
Unsurprisingly, the conclusions here are superficially positive: massage “significantly improved pain, anxiety, and depression in patients with FM.” But that’s statistical significance only, not a clinically significant degree of improvement: the size of the effect is trivial (much smaller than amplitude of the noise in the data). As usual, using the word “significantly” this way is technically correct and defensible, but otherwise misleading to all but the most alert readers.

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