Massage Myths

I was going to make the title Lies Massage Therapists Tell You, but this wouldn’t be fair because, although there is a lot of nonsense that massage therapists tell their clients, a lot of them truly believe what they’re saying because they were taught it. Even in the course I completed under an examining body that is highly rated, there was information about what massage can do for you that is just not possible. I’ll go through the main myths and help to explain these in terms of the body’s physiology and how they can’t possibly be true. The next time your massage therapist tells you something that doesn’t make sense, question them about why they believe that. There is very little regulation in complementary therapy in the UK and the quality of courses varies.

Massage removes toxins from your body and is great for detoxing

This is nonsense. Your liver detoxes your body at its own rate (see my post on the liver for more information). Nothing you can do will speed that up. If you have been exercising and your muscles are tight, a massage can help to ease the tightness in the soft tissues by improving circulation locally, which may help local toxin removal. This is not the same as the idea of a detox for the whole body.

You feel spaced out after a massage because toxins have been released

This myth was told to me by one of my clients who had heard it from another massage therapist, but it didn’t make sense to me. If massage released that many toxins that you felt light headed afterwards, it surely wouldn’t be good for you. In my own experience, I sometimes feel light headed after a massage and sometimes I feel fine. I have also had clients who normally have low blood pressure and occasionally get dizzy and they usually say they have the same light headed feeling after a massage.

This is what I have concluded and to me, this sounds like a more science-based reason: When you lie down, your blood pressure may drop. Your blood pressure also drops if you relax during a massage or if you were already tired. When you get up from the massage table afterwards, you may feel light headed because of this lowering of blood pressure. I can’t see any other reason, but I’m open to other theories, if they sound reasonable.

You need to drink lots of water after a massage

A number of my clients have been told this by other massage therapists who have told them that you lose water during a massage. If you’re having a sports massage and you’re sweating a lot, that’s fair enough as you’ll be losing fluid through sweat, but other that this, there’s no valid scientific reason why you need to drink more water. Drink when you are thirsty. Your body tells you when you need water. Even if you’ve had a sports massage, you don’t need to drink loads of water, just when you are thirsty.

Massage can speed up your metabolism

There is absolutely no evidence that this can happen during a massage and it makes no sense. Your metabolism is regulated by your endocrine system (which includes the thyroid gland). A massage can’t possibly influence this system and therefore your metabolism will be the same before and after a massage, even if you have regular massages.

Massage increases your blood circulation

This does happen on a local level, wherever you have been massaged. It won’t make a permanent difference if you feel you have poor circulation. It may increase during the massage and straight after and that’s it.

Massage can help you to lose weight and treat cellulite

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. There’s no quick fix for weight loss or cellulite removal.

For cellulite, massage may help temporarily hydrate the cells in the surface of the skin (which is what cellulite creams do). The hydrated cells are fuller and give the skin a firmer appearance, so it may seem that cellulite has been removed, but once the skin returns to its normal state, you’ll notice less of a change. I would assume you’d be offered a course of massages to remove cellulite, rather than just one. You may also be told to eat healthily and exercise more, which may help the appearance of your skin if you weren’t already following a healthy lifestyle. You can do all this on your own without paying for massages. There is no proven research on massage for cellulite removal.

For weight loss, it makes no sense that massage would be of help. If you were changing to a healthier lifestyle, having a massage may help you feel more in touch with your body and more encouraged to lose weight by exercise and eating healthily. On its own, massage cannot make a difference.

Where it may possibly help is if you were retaining water, there are certain types of massage that may help to release excess fluid. However, if this is the case, you’d need to know why you were retaining water in the first place and you should see your GP first. If you retain water because of a medical condition and a massage helps to remove this, it will only be temporary because the underlying condition will still be present.

Massage can balance your energy

This is a concept from Chinese medicine and there is no scientific proof that any “energy” exists that needs to be balanced. There are therapists who take what sounds like a mysterious or romantic idea from another culture and mix it with accepted Western therapies, often having very little understanding of the culture they appropriated it from.

So what can massage do then?

Massage can help to relieve pain by easing tension in the soft tissue of the body. Tension can restrict movement, making it painful and uncomfortable. Massage can help to relieve this discomfort.

Massage can help you relax. Allowing someone else to take care of you for an hour or so can be psychologically therapeutic.

You may feel more in touch with your body after a massage. We learn to disconnect from our bodies as we get older. My clients are often surprised when an area of their bodies is tight because they were only aware of one other area that was causing a problem. People often get used to having tight shoulders that they hold high up, rather than relaxing and allowing them to drop naturally. After a massage, my clients often report that their shoulders feel like they’ve dropped back down. I ask them to focus on that feeling, so they know in future where their shoulders are meant to be.

Massage can help you recover after an injury. I’ve worked with clients after accidents and injuries. Mentally, it is helpful to have someone who wants to help you. Physically, when you’re healing from an injury or are on crutches, you end up using your other muscles to help out, which means they’re working harder than usual and there may be a build up of tension. Scar tissue may be reduced by regular sports massage.

Sports massage is helpful during training for a sports event or if you are very active. I have worked with professional dancers as well as people who are training for marathons and other sports events. Regular sports massage helps ease muscle tension, which helps muscle and joint flexibility. This in turn helps prevent injuries and improves performance.

Massage during pregnancy can help deal with aches and pains in the shoulders, lower back and hips. It can’t trigger labour though. I have been seeing pregnant women in my practice for twelve years and not one of them has gone into labour. Some of my clients have been at their due dates or even a little past and nothing I have done has made any difference to when the baby has arrived. It can make you more relaxed, it can help ease tension, it may even help you sleep better if tight muscle was preventing this, but that’s about it.

Massage during labour may help ease tension in the muscles of the hips and thighs. I teach a course to couples, so that fathers-to-be can learn a simple massage routine to help during labour. It focuses on the muscles that are being used during labour and so far, feedback has been positive.

In conclusion

There is, unfortunately, a lot of nonsense in the massage world. If you get told something that sounds wrong or silly by someone giving you a massage, why not ask them why or what the science behind it is? Perhaps they’ve never thought it through but were taught it at some point and you may be able to prevent that myth spreading further.

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