• 8 Foolish Things “Everyone” Says About Massage

    W. Somerset Maugham quote

    Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

    A lot of people say a lot of things about massage, but that doesn’t make any of them them true.

    Below are the top 8 things that are said by entirely too many people yet aren’t even remotely true:

    1. Massage releases lactic acid – Oh my. This again. Lactic acid is actually fuel for your muscles. Your body makes it when needed during strenuous exercise and by the time you’ve caught your breath afterward it has already changed it back to the substances from whence it came.
      Repeat after me: “There is no lactic acid in my muscles when I go to get a massage. Lactic acid is not what makes my muscles hurt.”
    2. Massage releases toxins – Sigh. No one that I’ve asked seems to know exactly what these “toxins” are. Some categorically state that they’re metabolic waste products but get all vague when asked to identify just one by name. If we needed massage to release these so-called toxins, the people who don’t get massages would have all sorts of toxic conditions that folks who get regular massages don’t have. But that’s not the case.
      Repeat after me: “Massage releases tight muscles; it does not release toxins.”
    3. Massage where it hurts – I’m going to let you in on a little secret, because you honestly, probably don’t know. Much of the time, an area that aches constantly is not aching because the muscles are contracted tight and need to be released by massage; it’s aching because the muscles are being pulled or stretched tight. That ache/pain is coming from the stretch reflex which is causing the muscle to try to contract to protect itself from being stretched so far that it tears. When that’s the case, the only thing massaging the area will do is to further overstretch muscles that are already stretched too far and will possibly tear them. It may relieve the pain for a while but then it leaves the body open to even more dysfunction and greater pain when the tight muscles on the opposite side of the body (usually) continue to tighten and pull the body even farther out of normal posture than before. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you do have to massage right where it hurts, but it’s not a given. Not by a long shot.
      Repeat after me: “Not massaging the area that hurts is sometimes the best way to get rid of my pain.”
    4. The deeper the massage, the better – There are actually layers of muscle in some areas of the body. If the muscle nearest the skin is the one that needs massage, deep isn’t going to help. Deep is often used subjectively, as a feeling, and what feels deep to one person feels like a fluff and buff to another and vice versa. But deep isn’t really a feeling, it’s a function of depth. You know, something measurable. And as I said before, sometimes deep won’t do you any good.
      Repeat after me: “Using the correct pressure and depth is more important than using lots of pressure and going as deep as you can.”
    5. Massage isn’t effective unless it hurts – Discomfort is fine during a massage. “Good hurt” is fine during a massage. Plain old pain is not fine during a massage. Pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. During massage, pain is a signal that either microtears are occurring in the muscles or that the therapist is massaging with sufficient pressure to cause bruising. Neither is acceptable. If you can talk and breathe normally despite the discomfort, you’re fine. If a slow deep breath still relaxes you, you’re fine. If you feel the need to use lamaze breathing in order to tolerate the pain, it’s too much.
      Repeat after me: “Pain is never OK during a massage.”
    6. Relaxation doesn’t matter if you’re doing “real” clinical work – When you’re anxious or stressed in some way, do you think your muscles really release as well as when you’re relaxed? Of course they don’t. Sure, they’ll release; but it will require more effort on the therapist’s part (for most techniques, anyway) and is likely to leave you with more post-massage discomfort. This may be a bit over-generalized, but I’m trying to make the point that being dismissive of all relaxation techniques out of hand, is very short-sighted and doesn’t serve the client very well at all.
      Repeat after me: “Muscles release easier and with less discomfort when I’m relaxed.”
    7. Every muscle that feels tight needs to be worked – No, it doesn’t. Both contracted and stretched muscles feel tight, but in different ways. And, as I covered earlier, it’s a very bad idea to “release” muscles that are pulled or stretched tight. 
      Repeat after me: “Only the muscles that are contracted tight should be released.”
    8. Evidence-based techniques are the only ones that have any therapeutic value – There are a lot of people who feel that the only massage techniques that should be used are ones that have passed rigorous, scientific scrutiny and been proven effective by controlled, double-blind research studies. That sounds all well and good on the surface, but given the unique way that people respond to any given massage technique, and given that shoulder (or back, or neck, or any) pain can have many causes it’s a bit short-sighted. Or maybe a lot short-sighted. I have a high proportion of clients with neck, shoulder, and/or headache pain and I can tell you without hesitation that I have to vary the techniques I use based on each client’s personality, their unique presentation of symptoms, and the individual way each responds to my work. No session is ever the same, even for the same client. I use many techniques that have not been “proven” effective by research, but that’s not surprising. Many of them have never been tested. Should that automatically rule them out? No. Does that mean that any positive effect is simply due to the placebo effect. No. And even if it did, what would it matter, as long as the client felt better? Current medical research is showing that even in mainstream medical treatments that have passed the scrutiny of research (and you might be surprised to find out how many have not even been tested), there is a level of placebo effect present in the positive results. Placebo effect is not the horrible thing that it’s made out to be, but that’s for another post.
      Repeat after me: “The best massage technique is the one that works for my body at the time I’m getting the massage, and it might be a different technique than the one that was most effective last time.”

    There are a lot more silly things that people say about massage, but I figured this post was long enough already. If you found this post useful or informative, I’d be ever so grateful if you’d share it with your friends, family, and clients. 

One Response so far.

  1. Nicole Deasy says:

    Great article! I agree.