In recent years, there has been more and more research into the benefits of massage. And there are many that studies are confirming. Benefits including…
- relief from stress, headaches and body pain;
- decreased stiffness and increased muscle and joint flexibility and range of motion;
- increased circulation and tissue regeneration;
- improved posture;
- blood pressure control;
- decreased time required to recover from physical exertion or injuries.
But there are other so-called benefits that the science is not supporting. In some cases there isn’t yet enough evidence to say conclusively either way, but in others research is showing that some of those “benefits” are less than substantiated.
One of those is that massage “removes toxins”. If you hear that mentioned, a fair question to ask is “Which toxins?” Are we talking about lead poisoning? Pesticides? Aspartame? Tobacco? Snake venom? Whether the issue is environmental toxins or metabolic wastes, you have to know what molecule you’re talking about, how it works under normal conditions, and how massage or water intake is supposed to improve upon its processing in any meaningful way.
Lactic acid is the poster child for metabolic waste, and most massage therapists still assume that lactic acid can be worked out of muscle tissue and into the bloodstream. This is easy to test, it’s been tested, and some results were rather shocking: not only does massage not “reduce” lactic acid, massage may even “impair lactic acid and hydrogen ion removal from muscle.” (Just to muddy the waters, though, for the latter studied only 12 people, which isn’t much of a sample size.)
What about drinking water? Surely that has some benefits after a massage and helps the body recover (from something) faster, right? Well, some believe that drinking water “rinses” your blood vessels or cells. But your circulatory system isn’t a system of tubes that you can flush out by drinking extra water.
In fact, fluid balance is quite stable and somewhat independent of modest changes in water intake. If you drink some extra or some less, your blood volume will stay almost exactly the same. Drinking extra water doesn’t add it to your bloodstream. The liver and the kidneys are the primary detoxifying organs: this is where most so-called toxic molecules are treated and/or excreted, and they don’t require extra water to work.
This is what the most current research is showing, but there is still much to study. To help, here are some useful links:
- Why Do We Need Massage Therapy Research?
- Laura Allen, Massage Therapist, on Toxins & Massage
- Should You Drink Water After a Massage?
- Quackwatch.org on “Detoxification Schemes and Scams” (their words)
And watch this video from Laura Allen, M.T. (who is eminently qualified to speak on this subject).
What do you think? Does massage remove toxins like lactic acid from the body, and does drinking water after a massage help?