I’ve been feeling a bit run-down lately, and I’ve been reading a lot about detoxification. From what I’ve read, we absorb toxins from the things we eat as well as just being out in public space. Over time, we build up these toxins in our bodies and they wreak havoc on our well-being. Out of all the methods of detoxification I’ve read, massage certainly has the most appeal. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy a relaxing massage? But does massage really release toxins?
There are many benefits to massage therapy – benefits that may help improve your mood and energy levels, as well as your overall quality of life. Massage promotes relaxation and is clinically proven to decrease anxiety levels. Evidence also supports the use of massage therapy to improve circulation and ease muscle tension, helping alleviate muscular pain and soreness.
However, the idea that massage releases toxins is a myth. In the first place, it’s difficult to define exactly what proponents are talking about when they refer to “toxins.” This vague word is used for any substance that has a negative impact on your health or well-being. It could refer to metabolic waste, or it could refer to environmental poisons absorbed by your body. Proponents of the detoxification theory would have you believe that merely through the gentle pressure of massage, these toxins are squeezed from your body and released into your blood stream. There simply is no scientific evidence that this theory is true.
Some claim that this detoxification process refers to lactic acid, which can build up in your muscles after exercise, causing pain and cramping. There is no evidence to suggest that massage assists with the release of lactic acid, and in fact one study actually demonstrated that massage slowed that release.
In reality, neither metabolic waste nor lactic acid are really toxins. These substances are continually recycled and reused, and serve important purposes for your body’s health. They are never “released” or “flushed” from your body, nor should they be. They may cause pain and soreness when congested or clustered in one location, but once the congestion is cleared they continue to cycle as normal.
When people talk about the detoxifying effect of massage, they are more likely referring to the fresh, relaxed, and upbeat way they feel after a massage. A meta-analysis of massage therapy research concluded that massage therapy’s most significant effects were in reductions of anxiety and depression. That may make you feel detoxified, but it doesn’t mean that any toxins were actually released from your body at all.
 Western Journal of Medicine: “Massage therapies” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071543/
 Massage Therapy Foundation: “5 Myths and Truths About Massage Therapy” http://www.tracywalton.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/5-Myths-and-Truths-about-Massage-Therapy_final-with-Page-Numers.pdf
 Pain Science: “Why Drink Water After Massage?” https://www.painscience.com/articles/drinking-water-after-massage.php
 Psychological Bulletin: “A meta-analysis of massage therapy research” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14717648
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