3 Massage Myths You Should Stop Repeating

a-haines-headshotWe learn all sorts of stuff in massage school. We learn how to effleurage, conduct a client intake, and fold a pillowcase into a makeshift face cradle cover with lightening speed. We learn what our teachers tell us; things they learned in school and battle stories from years of practice. While the wisdom of those who came before us is useful, sometimes it’s dead wrong. Complete rubbish.

What we knew about physiology, 30 years ago, heck 5 years ago, is much less than what we’re beginning to learn now. It’s important to revisit what we know, and toss out the myths that have been shown to be untrue.

Massage flushes toxins out of the body
No. Stop saying this. Rarely has anyone proclaiming this benefit been able to actually name the ‘toxins’ gallivanting around in our systems.

A healthy body has a pretty efficient way of dealing with its metabolic wastes, they get reused and repurposed (so efficient!), stored away safely, or eliminated (sweating, peeing, pooping, etc). There are more technical situations involving environmental pollutants that may require medical intervention (think lead poisoning), to remove a harmful substance from a body. But massage isn’t such an intervention. Need more convincing? Paul Ingraham has a great article about just this topic. And if that’s not enough, check out Laura Allen’s little chat about toxins.

What about lactic acid? It turns out that lactic acid is a fuel, not a waste product, and we have no business trying to remove it from muscle tissue. Oh, and there’s no relationship between the amount of lactic acid present in tissue and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. (Mind blowing, huh?)

So what should we say when clients ask about toxins, muscles soreness and massage? It can be awkward to respond with, “I have no idea if this massage stuff actually works.”

I usually say, “New research is showing us that lactic acid doesn’t cause muscle soreness and that there really aren’t any ‘toxins’ rogue in our systems. I can tell you that the bulk of my clients move and feel better day to day when they get regular massage.”

Massage spreads cancer
It’s been said that if one was to massage over a tumor, cells could break off and be spread to other areas throughout the body via the bloodstream. Nope. Doesn’t happen that way.

According to my friend Lisa Santoro, a properly skilled therapist wouldn’t be massaging directly over a tumor site. Further, the type of pressure used in massage is akin to that of water pressure in a shower, and isn’t likely to be causing the dispersal of cells.

And yet, it’s such a pervasive myth that it’s a FAQ on Tracy Walton’s website. (Tracy is a massage therapist, researcher and an expert in oncology massage.)

“An old myth warned that massage could, by raising general circulation, promote metastasis since tumor cells travel through blood and lymph channels. We now recognize that movement and exercise raise circulation much more than a brief massage can, and that routine increases in circulation occur many times daily in response to metabolic demands of our tissues”. If you would like a more technical discussion on this topic, you can read this brilliant article by Debra Curties.

If you wish to provide massage to people with cancer, seek extensive advanced training. If you wish to be awesome, just stop spreading this myth.

Massage is not safe in the first trimester of pregnancy
Women have been massaging each other through pregnancies for thousands of years, so when did this rumor start? I could rant about the medicalization of maternity and the tendency to turn pregnancy into an illness and treat it as the least natural thing to happen to a body, but I won’t.

My best guess is that this myth came from fear and concerns about liability. If a pregnancy is going to spontaneously terminate, it is most likely to happen in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. This means there is an increased chance of a massage being administered and miscarriage occurring in the same small time frame, say a few days. But we’re smart massage therapists. We know that correlation does not imply causation. A miscarriage may be caused by any of several issues including chromosomal abnormalities, severe chronic illness or severe trauma. The application of skilled massage is not a cause of miscarriage.

When someone asks you about safety of massage at any point in pregnancy, refer them to a professional with advanced training in this area.

What you can do to bust the myths
Be sure to reexamine your assumptions regularly and keep up on new research in massage. (Hint: you can do that on the Massage Therapy Foundation blog.) It is our duty as competent, thoughtful practitioners to educate the public and other health care professionals about what massage can truly do (and not do).

Allissa Haines is a massage therapist with a full private practice in Plainville, MA. She creates marketing and business resources for massage therapists at Writing A Blue Streak and is an educator for the Massage Learning Network, an online learning center for massage therapists and students. She is also a marketing consultant, professional speaker, and a frequent snacker.


Comments from original Massamio post:

Thanks for the shout-out and thanks for continuing the mission to get massage therapists to stop repeating these myths! — Posted @ Monday, December 24, 2012 5:00 PM by Laura Allen

me gustaría saber mas yo no e dado mastengo carrera trunca de enfermería ye trabajado en asilos y con enfermos en casa ajes pero tu pagina me llamucho la tesion y te puedo decir q tengo carrera trunca de enfermería ye trabajado en asilos y con enfermos en casa me gustaría saber mas de ustedes si pudiera unirme al proyecto vivo en michoacan en tarimbaro gracias y esonoticias lisabel vinas  — Posted @ Tuesday, December 25, 2012 3:42 PM by l isabel vinas lopez

Your article is as radical as the proclamation that the world is not flat! I have repeated those myths verbatim to my clients many times, and hoped they would not delve deeper, because I had no factual data to back it up. I am really glad I took the time to read your article. Thank you for providing this information. — Posted @ Thursday, December 27, 2012 9:20 AM by Andrea Mouser

Disappointed that the link to Debra Curties article just takes one back to this main article. Interesting information though! — Posted @ Thursday, December 27, 2012 11:26 AM by Stevie

I’ve been trying to inform my colleagues of this for at least 15 yrs. Unfortunately many teachers are not checking what they teach.  Thank you,  Barbara — Posted @ Thursday, December 27, 2012 11:33 AM by Barbara Joel

These are certainly some of the most repeated myths. I am glad that you gave some back up data and did not just post that they’re not true. On another note, did you know that Michael Phelps processes lactic acid faster than the regular person; so some feel that is one of the reasons he is such a great athlete. Interesting…. — Posted @ Thursday, December 27, 2012 1:14 PM by Greg

The 20th year in massage and there is a new dawn hooray, hooray, hooray! Dispelling all the myths and hocus pocus, the uninformed, the nonsense of having special healing powers. Straight out facts learned professional practices, evidence based massage therapies and continuing education. So happy I could cry for joy. Heart felt thanks to these pioneers in Massage education at long last, finding it a rightful place in HEALTH CARE. — Posted @ Thursday, December 27, 2012 3:41 PM by Petrina Steer

I repeated these for 7 years. When I first started “hearing” the truth I was angered that anyone would say such things were untrue. But I kept reading. I cried for a week. I try to share this information when I can. In fact, I shared this article and two others this week and am now engaged in a friendly debate. Great, great article. — Posted @ Thursday, December 27, 2012 4:01 PM by Tracy

Hi all. Love the comments! Keep them coming! I’ve been trying to figure out how to reply to each of you, but this will have to do for now. Thanks for reading, sharing and all of your comments! — Posted @ Thursday, December 27, 2012 4:24 PM by Sarah Cafiero

Ever since the early 90’s they have known that lactic acid had nothing to do with DOMS. Dr Clarkson of University of Massachusetts, Amherst, showed that DOMS pain was actually the molecular “broken” pieces, having been removed from the tissue, now triggering nerve receptors . DOMS is easily induced with eccentric exercise, but not with concentric exercise. Feel free to email me Ed@ KneadEd.net if you have questions. Thanks — Posted @ Friday, December 28, 2012 8:20 AM by Edward

To Greg,  It makes sense that M. Phelps creates lactic acid sooner than the normal person. The harder any athlete ‘works to failure’ the sooner ATP gets replaced by lactic acid. — Posted @ Friday, December 28, 2012 11:33 AM by Barbara Joel

Right to the point, succinct and well stated. The trouble is, we are still hearing it. So, what does that mean? Are schools still teaching these myths? Is it the older therapists who learned it earlier and did not keep up with current information? As far as the water thing goes, when I checked several AMTA websites March 2012, they were recommending clients drink water after massage! Usually posted in the FAQ or along with benefits pages! And why does it matter, Ethics, is one reason! — Posted @ Sunday, December 30, 2012 11:30 AM by Kelly M. Beach

Great questions, Kelly. I wonder too if it’s like a bad habit that’s hard to break…the sharing of misinformation. — Posted @ Monday, December 31, 2012 3:48 PM by Sarah Cafiero

I’d like to raise my hand and ask about the toxin concern. I always give my clients water after a massage and tell them to stay hydrated. I don’t say anything about toxins, but sometimes they do. Last week a client told me “After the first massage I got, no one told me I had to drink water to flush out the toxins. I felt achy and had a headache. I always drink water now and it makes a big difference.”   While I’m a fan of educating people, saying “those aren’t toxins, but beats me why you feel like that, or why water helps” is not exactly myth-busting. If they understand that drinking water helps them feel better, that seems like a positive thing.   And if the issue really is nothing more than semantics(“it’s metabolic waste, not toxins”), but it’s the exact same process that they are imagining, I’m not clear on why that’s being called a myth.  Thanks for your help in understanding this! — Posted @ Friday, January 04, 2013 1:19 AM by Amy

These are great comments! Amy, I WOULD say, “Well, we don’t know exactly how it works, but if you feel drinking water helps, go for it.” I think it beats mis-informing the person. Who knows, maybe they were dehydrated before that 1st massage?   Kelly, I agree. That’s exactly the problem. The misinformation is happening at every level, and it’s an ethical problem. — Posted @ Friday, January 04, 2013 9:39 AM by Allissa Haines

When this discussion is had with level headed thoughtful practitioners, it is really a fun and useful conversation! Amy, you made a valid point and I would like to really comment on that, but it is larger than this box! Hence, I am going to write what I am thinking in a page document and send to you directly. Happy to continue the discussion. Also, anyone else interested, please feel free to get in! — Posted @ Friday, January 04, 2013 11:42 AM by Kelly Beach

Well, let me just put this part in!  Yes, absolutely as you said, semantics! That being said, can you see how it is just a matter of language and ethical guidance? And, that word toxin is so very charged, as well as dehydrated. So, let’s simply not use them. None of us want to purchase any service or any product for that matter and want to be misguided about what it really does.   Getting back to the research, I think, two things happened that were used in the language for a long time and kind of made us take a better look at massage and what it does, and hence what we tell people. For me, they were the cortisone studies and the lactic acid studies. For years, we thought the feel good after a massage was an increase in cortisone levels, but that was absolutely disproven. So, now we really do not know why it feels so good! For years, we thought the feel bad had to be lactic acid, but that was disproven, a long time ago. So, what is that? Is there anything that could possibly drive away clients more quickly than saying something that isn’t or looking uniformed and uneducated?   — Posted @ Friday, January 04, 2013 12:03 PM by Kelly Beach

One of the thoughts i have been struggling with is that we really don’t KNOW what we are doing on a physiological level. Has there ever been validation of the MFR, “intention”, MET, are there adhesions, and would i agree to your assessment of the tissue  The fact is that our work IS effective, but until we learn to understand statistics, learn to do Mass Spec analysis, develop repeatable standards, and/or completely understand molecular physiology we are working as ARTISTS, not scientists. Which might just be the best way to practice.  My point being that we ARE very effective in our work, and i really don’t think anyone actually has scientific evidence to support what we think its the mechanism how.  I am struggling to assemble a study to start down the path to finding out… I suspect that developing real findings and validated techniques are going to infuriate some therapists….ooh well  Cheers,  Edward  — Posted @ Friday, January 04, 2013 5:07 PM by Edward

If you are truly wishing to dispell the “myths” of massage, please take a good, hard look at the curricula of the educational institutions that specifically claim that massage is in any way effective in the treatment of (pick a condition). Similarly, examine the regulatory bodies (‘colleges’) and examine what is presented to the public in terms of what massage therapists “treat”. If you were to remove the conditions for which there is poor to no evidence for the efficacy of what massage can actually do, you would find that the length of these programs would have to be reduced to weekend workshops. The literacy of the average massage therapist in terms of science, and or scientific reserach methodology remains problematic, and this article is a testament to that fact. — Posted @ Saturday, January 05, 2013 9:14 PM by Finny

Finny, I could not agree more that MT’s need more training in understanding research, myself included. That’s why I’ve actively promoted the Massage Therapy Foundation’s Basics of Research Literacy course, and volunteer a substantial amount of time to that organization.   This will not happen overnight. — Posted @ Sunday, January 06, 2013 9:23 AM by Allissa Haines

How much does the research matter? Here we are in that trend, but why, what does it prove? From above, we need to know if we can work a first trimester pregnancy. We need to know how to touch someone with cancer. But, does drinking water after the massage really matter?  If a client comes in with neck pain, and it is gone when he or she leaves, and let’s say, remains gone, I don’t really know what did that. I do not know if it was the suboccipital release, or the acupoint in the trap, or the myofascial release I did in the gastroc with the foot work. Or, whether the person went home and completely changed the way he or she was sitting! And, how will we ever measure that! What I am saying is while we are uping the ante with evidence based this and that, let’s not forget that clients come for massage and spread the news because of the way they feel. Not because of what the research says. For me, right now, research tells me more about anatomy, it helps me use language with physicians, and maybe do a little specific marketing, but it does not tell me how a client will receive or feel, or how long it will last, or how often they need to come. — Posted @ Sunday, January 06, 2013 10:12 AM by Kelly Beach

As an Integrative Medicine practitioner, I run into people who are dehydrated on a daily basis. Considering the setting of a massage room, the quiet, the aromatherapy, the displacement of fluid by massage, it’s not unlikely a client would finally notice their dehydration. Many people are not intune to their physiology on a daily basis until they experience the physical aspects of physical or massage therapy. For many, it is the beginning of a new relationship with their physical self and putting any fears caused by myths aside is crucial. We need to remember the average client doesn’t understand how the body functions, but they do know three Family Reunions ago, Aunt Marge told them her hairdresser said you should never get a massage in the first trimester of pregnancy. As professionals, it is our job to dispel myths with accurate, simply explained information. I’ve found having the basic full size human body charts of bones and muscles, both male and female and one of each of the body systems makes my job easier. I have them set up by gender in a poster rack, just like the ones Spencer’s Gifts uses for their black light posters. They are laminated so I can write on them with dry erase markers. I can honestly say, it has cut my client education time by 50% and I no longer wonder if they really understood what I was explaining to them when they leave.  — Posted @ Sunday, January 06, 2013 2:12 PM by Geri

If it weren’t for the “medicalization of maternity”, my son and I would not have survived his birth. I do not think that being a massage therapist qualifies the author to make this kind of blanket statement about pregnancy and massage. Further, It is a slap in the face to the medical community that the massage profession strives to build a working relationship with. Further, the author does not address high risk pregnancies in this statement, which is irresposnible and again, beyond the scope of our practice. — Posted @ Wednesday, January 09, 2013 6:27 PM by Terye Wohnus

Terye, in NO WAY did I suggest that a massage therapist should take the place of the care of an obstetrician or midwife, and there is nothing I said that is out of my scope of practice. Sharing info about prenatal massage and supporting modern medicine are not mutually exclusive activities.   Being a massage therapist with advanced training in prenatal massage and extensive experience in the field certainly qualifies me to make all of the above statements.   Please note that I suggested any questions about the safety of massage be routed to a “professional with advanced training in this area.” This was not an article about the specifics of pregnancy massage or technique, this was an overview of myths.   Those with advance training are quite competent in screening women and high risk pregnancies for massage contraindications. We often decline to treat clients based on contraindications, and work with OB’s to provide modified and appropriate massage care to women in these situations.   I stand by this article and my statements. I’m sorry you’re having such an angry and agressive response to it, but I think it is misplaced. — Posted @ Wednesday, January 09, 2013 6:49 PM by Allissa Haines

I am simply disagreeing with you. Sorry if you find that to be angry, aggressive and misplaced response. I did my final research project in school on massage and pregnancy. It is a subject that I am well-versed in and care very much about. I do not entirely disagree with what you are saying, I just feel that you should have been more attentive to high-risk pregnancies.  — Posted @ Wednesday, January 09, 2013 7:14 PM by Terye

Enjoyed your article… — Posted @ Thursday, January 17, 2013 9:59 AM by Sharon Hartnett

Just to add to a little about lactic acid muscle soreness. I believe it is the hydrogen ion that causes muscles soreness during exercises and not lactic acid. The lactic acid is broken down into lactate and a hydrogen ion. The lactate is used for fuel. And according to Kisner and Colby lactic acid is naturally out of the body’s system witin 2 hours of exercise. The muscle soreness that people feel, I beleive is due inflammation from micro tearing of soft tissues.(DOMS)   So it begs the question – what’s the purpose of an epsom’s salt bath to remove the “toxins”?  Warmest Regards  Mike — Posted @ Thursday, January 24, 2013 8:45 AM by Mike Grafstein

HI Mike,  Interesting idea, have you seen any studies that support your theory about hydrogen?  A  — Posted @ Thursday, January 24, 2013 9:31 AM by Allissa

Hi Allissa,  Here is a good reference for you explaining exactly what happens   http://www.delano.k12.mn.us/high-school/academic-departments/science/mr-b-wiesner/cross-country/10-things-you-should-know-about-lactic-acid   Here are some references:  Brooks, G.A. and Trimmer J.K. Glucose kinetics during high-intensity exercise and the crossover concept. J. Appl. Physiol. 80: 1073-1074, 1996.  Donovan C.M., Brooks G.A. Endurance training affects lactate clearance, not lactate production. Am. J. Physiol. 244: E83-E92, 1983.  Hultman E.A. Fuel selection muscle fiber. Proc. Nutr. Soc. 54: 107-121, 1995.  I hope this helps  Warmest Regards  Mike   — Posted @ Thursday, January 24, 2013 1:51 PM by Mike Grafstein

Thanks! — Posted @ Thursday, January 24, 2013 1:57 PM by Allissa

“Massage spreads cancer”, what a joke. I don’t think enough research has been done to validate this statement. — Posted @ Thursday, January 31, 2013 9:46 AM by Massage Jackson MS

Today, I contacted 3 institutions to ask about their prenatal massage continuing education classes. Two of the three classes teach that massage is contraindicated in the first trimester. While I’m glad I asked before spending money on the programs, I’m also frustrated by the responses. — Posted @ Thursday, January 31, 2013 7:23 PM by Rianne Chavez

Totally agree with the need to question ones cliché’s.   “the type of pressure used in massage is akin to that of water pressure in a shower”…. Oh dear, what a disappointing massage……  I wonder if the evidence of no toxic release also applies to treatments of Chi Nei Tsung on people that have poor digestion? — Posted @ Tuesday, February 12, 2013 2:54 PM by Louka

interesting…you dont show research to back up your antimyth claims…and yet we are suppose to believe you just like we believe the   Dr. — Posted @ Tuesday, February 12, 2013 3:16 PM by juju

How refreshing to read some common sense about massage. I totally agree that the edicts around massage in the first trimester are more to do with potential liability issues than medical contraindications. I’ve worked in an NHS hospital for several years now as the oncology therapist and the massage we offer is supported by the medical team because it is so gentle and soothing and is never given over the site of a tumour. Also there is an understanding that the massage is about offering comfort and relaxation rather than offering treatment for the disease (which of course would be nonsense). I hope that more of us will speak up against these myths and, as you say, keep abreast of new discoveries that affect our work. — Posted @ Friday, March 01, 2013 4:42 AM by Kimberley Pledger

Kimberly, thanks for sharing about your experience. — Posted @ Friday, March 01, 2013 10:16 AM by Benjamin McDonald

I’m currently a massage student and we are still being taught that each of these “myths” above are real and true. Shame on me for not thinking outside the box and questioning it more. apparently the only thing I really do know is how to fold my pillow cases perfectly for a face cradle 🙂 I have a lot to learn yet. — Posted @ Monday, April 01, 2013 8:51 PM by Katie Kerchner

Katie, no shame here! Cuddos to you for researching, reading, and learning. It’s what great professionals are made of. — Posted @ Monday, April 01, 2013 10:47 PM by Benjamin McDonald

We all gotta learn sometime!   PS- I still can’t do that pillowcase thing very well. — Posted @ Tuesday, April 02, 2013 7:23 AM by Allissa Haines

I haven’t looked at this thread in a while and it’s wonderful to see it’s still raising awareness.   The fact that the AMTA publishes articles that declare we are working with “liquid crystals in the body” and that there is “liquid light” in the tissues is very alarming.   keep up the good work!  PS   fold pillowcases in thirds the long way (long and skinny), then in thirds the short way after washing. When laying them on the face cradle, just lay folded PC on forehead area, and flip “ends” to cover cheek area. 🙂 — Posted @ Wednesday, April 03, 2013 9:07 AM by ed westhead

About the time we think we have this settled, down the road they may just find something floating around in the tissues, that could not be seen previously, or measured, and it will change the view again. Robert M posted an article on in all the groups, Simmons, a trigger point guy, that talks about irritants and metabolic wastes in trigger points… I personally am going to keep the book open on this one! — Posted @ Wednesday, April 03, 2013 12:27 PM by kelly beach

They now have over 4600 compounds they can recognize in the body, of which we only know what about 600 do. As for metabolic wastes in trigger points, it has been shown that TP are zones that are completely deficient in O2, so any metabolism would have to be anaerobic, and zero O2 implies that there is no circulation either, thus: easy logic to say that there are high concentrations of waste at TP’s  as for the 4,100+ unknown chemicals, there is a chance we can find Qi, or emotions, or etc..   We, who do bodywork, know that the body is 10,000x more complex than even advanced physiology says.  Let’s show medicine we really do have amazing understanding and skills!! — Posted @ Thursday, April 04, 2013 7:43 AM by ed westhead

Great article, Thanks.  I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1996. I was living in Germany at the time and the diagnoses was totally devastating. The doctor at the hospital who performed a total hysterectomy on me recommended massages “for relaxation” before and a couple of weeks after the operation. It most certainly helped me emotionally and physically. — Posted @ Friday, April 26, 2013 12:17 AM by Marion

Marion-Thanks for sharing your story. Glad to hear you found help amid the devastation. — Posted @ Thursday, May 02, 2013 6:13 PM by Benjamin McDonald

In an article that’s concerned with the spread of misinformation, I’m really concerned with the lack of evidence that backs up these claims. It all makes sense in theory, but I agree with one commenter above that says we’re supposed to take this as the gospel truth without any proof. Even if they’re the words of the misinformed, at least I can throw text books, online articles and professional sources out as proof that the alleged myths are, in fact, truth.   A comment posted by Ed also concerns me. Yes, we do have the understanding and skills to be with those in the medical field, but it would be pertinent to actually show that you had the understanding? In anatomy, the class where we learn about how the body functions and works, we are told that a lack of blood flow and oxygen to an area means that the area in question will die and become necrotic. So, if trigger points are muscles that completely lack blood flow and oxygen, wouldn’t it be necrotic tissue and we would need to not work on the areas and instead refer all clients with trigger points to the nearest hospital for emergency surgery and to be possibly be put on dialysis to save their kidneys from being completely shot?  I just happen to find this bit of misinformation to be ironic considering the topic of the article. — Posted @ Saturday, May 11, 2013 1:22 PM by Alpha

Well, Alpha, I’m wondering if you clicked on any of the links in the article, that refer back to the sources of the info I stated?  Frankly, many of the comments posted below this article concern me. Most off all, accusatory ones from people who remain anonymous.  — Posted @ Saturday, May 11, 2013 1:30 PM by Allissa Haines

Hi Alpha,   Yes, you have been taught correctly that when TISSUE is depleted of oxygen for too long, it does die (become necrotic)  HOWEVER:  1) muscles function “routinely” (in my world of athletes) without enough oxygen. This is Anaerobic metabolism and produces lactic acid [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaerobic_exercise]  {did your school cover the Krebs cycle [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krebs_cycle]- cool info!!  1A) thus it is not the muscle cells we need to worry about going necrotic, rather the nerve cells.   2)the study I saw was discussing the O2 levels measured were at the muscle cell levels, not tissue.   – I believe that it’s in the original books by Simmons and Travell that I saw the O2 level study. I am at a workshop in the mountains, so unable to get to my notes.  Thanks for voicing your concerns/ questions! — Posted @ Sunday, May 12, 2013 8:43 AM by ed westhead

Alpha and everybody-  Take a look at page 71, of Travell & Simmons’s Myofascial pain and dysfunction, 2nd edition for discussion of the localized “energy crisis” which is different words saying “lack of oxygen”. The study I had in mind validating this I can’t find at the moment.. maybe in a few days.  thanks  ed   — Posted @ Monday, May 13, 2013 8:43 PM by ed

beg to differ on the toxins… it may not pull toxins out of your liver.. however an ischemic muscle is another issue. cells produce waste continually, if blood isn’t flowing through the muscle the cellular waste can’t flush well. if the cellular waste isn’t flushed… toxic problem. massage introduces a blood flow to ischemic tissue… hence “detox”es the muscle. just sayin’ 🙂   — Posted @ Tuesday, June 11, 2013 6:53 PM by kim short

Kim, did you read the article I linked to? Or are you just repeating what someone told you from school?  If you can show me some legit research on that and persuade me, I’ll gladly recant my statement. But I bet you’ll have trouble finding that. — Posted @ Tuesday, June 11, 2013 7:27 PM by Allissa Haines

Wow, this is awesome Allissa.I’ve been saying and having these things for years and now have someone else saying the same things!! Logic and physiology can’t be ignored. These myths never made sense to me and I told my students and clients the same things you have said. It’s just not true that lactic acid causes pain, that there shouldn’t be massage in the first trimester of pregnancy, you’ll cause cancer to metastasize and so on. There was never and science to back this up.Finally someone, you Allissa, had the courage to challenge these mistaken beliefs and state clearly what are truly obvious facts. Thank you so much!! I will be reposting this alot. Zoe — Posted @ Tuesday, June 11, 2013 10:51 PM by Zoe Vaughter

Great article. Clients often ask what the benefits are and I always say. “You tell me after 3 sessions!” I would add one more myth. Having a veterinary surgeon for a husband, I have assisted in lots of surgeries and anyone who thinks they can break down old scar tissue with massage, is sadly mistaken. Very recently laid down collagen fibres maybe, but real scar tissue? No way! Its as tough as old boots… literally! — Posted @ Wednesday, June 12, 2013 12:22 AM by Claire Wyness

I can agree with the first two myths, but as for massaging in the first trimester, maybe not. And there is no evidence to back up your myth (no links to articles that explain anything like in the other two). In Russia, they used lymphatic massage as a form of abortion because if you raise the circulation enough the placenta can’t attach to the uterine wall to get nutrients. Albeit, you would have to get a massage every single day to have that kind of circulation… but it’s not a myth. There was a reason why we were taught in school to be careful during the first trimester. — Posted @ Wednesday, June 12, 2013 12:18 PM by Michelle

Kim,  I think there is a good definition of toxins at Wikipedia.  I don’t think serum from a bee sting or botulism can be removed by massage.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxin  — Posted @ Wednesday, June 12, 2013 12:25 PM by Mike Grafstein

Well, Michelle. You can’t prove a negative. But I think we mostly agree that 1st trimester massage is safe when administered by a well trained specialist.  Thanks for that info about Russia, I’m gonna check that out. — Posted @ Wednesday, June 12, 2013 12:58 PM by Allissa

Brilliant! I remember the first couple of time I massaged two people with cancer. I remembered my teachings.   I carried out the massage in both instances careful not to massage on or over the actual site or that of the ‘reverse’ of the site – back & stomach.   I know of Therapists who still will not   massage anyone with cancer. People with cancer are often the people who really need massage. They have a hard enough time as it is. To deny them also of ‘hands-on touch’ a sense of well-being & the ability for them to   off-load some of their fears; well, these Tutorial books need to be set straight. — Posted @ Wednesday, June 12, 2013 1:43 PM by Sue Hulbert

You may want to check this out on kindle.  www.amazon.ca/Massage-Therapy-Truths-Claims-ebook/dp/B00D3NJ0UC  — Posted @ Wednesday, June 12, 2013 2:04 PM by Mike

Re: massage spreading cancer, it’s probably worth noting that the medical world doesn’t fully understand why some cancers spread and others don’t and whilst it’s highly unlikely that massage is a contributory factor it’s probably best to err on the side of caution and avoid the site of tumours. Interesting that one contributor avoids the reverse site too. That isn’t something I’d heard of before, but in some ways it makes sense. The tricky thing is when the cancer has spread to the bones or is in the blood as then it doesn’t really leave anywhere to massage and that is another reason to only offer feather-light strokes.  Re: massage in Russia being used as an abortion technique – really? That sounds pretty outlandish to me, a bit like being taught not massage the great eliminator and other meridian points to avoid bringing on miscarriage. If it were that easy to end a pregnancy there’d be no unwanted pregnancies so I’m extremely sceptical about this. — Posted @ Wednesday, June 12, 2013 2:15 PM by Kimberley Pledger

I posted earlier this evening on Massage & Cancer. I should add that the Clients presenting themselves with cancer have always been granted prior permission from their Dr/Specialist. Indeed, one Client’s Specialist suggested massage therapy to her before she’d even thought about it.  Furthermore, I do not treat ANYBODY before they have completed, signed & dated a ‘Lifestyle Form’ which includes an extensive list of Contra-Indications. It is part of the confidential consultation I give and, whether the treatment is 90mins or 20mins, there are NO exceptions, I have a signed record of medical-related notes & other details for EVERY Client I treat be it in their own home or in my Mobile Clinic. — Posted @ Wednesday, June 12, 2013 4:09 PM by Sue

Take a urine test before and after a massage. You’ll see if ‘toxins’ are flushed through urine. Your article is a dis-service. Ayurveda very clearly states that massage releases toxins which is flushed out of the blood stream through urine, sweat, and through the digestive system via the stools. — Posted @ Thursday, June 13, 2013 9:26 PM by Kari

‘Ayurveda clearly states..” is not really a rational contribution to the discussion. It assumes one believes in Ayurvedic traditions. I am not familiar enough with the modality to know, is there research to back this up in Ayurvedic medicine? If you’ve got a source to share I would really like to check it out. — Posted @ Thursday, June 13, 2013 9:39 PM by Allissa

In Ayurveda, there’s the concept of “ama,” which is translated as “toxins,” but according to some practitioners, it’s not a very accurate translation of the term.  Great overview of these three ideas that have been shown to be misconceptions. — Posted @ Friday, June 14, 2013 3:17 PM by Lisa

Just tracked back to this post after you referenced it recently. Clearly I have not been keeping up with your writing. Great post. About six months ago I had a version of the pregnancy and massage myth with a potential client saying she was worried that massage would interfere with getting pregnant. I told her I had never heard such a thing but if she was nervous then she best not schedule a massage. She wrote back that she was just nervous and still wanted a massage. She has turned into one of my best new clients and I have gotten to work with her husband and many of her friends. So many myths, so little time. Thanks for your good work! — Posted @ Thursday, July 11, 2013 4:13 PM by Ezekiel OBrien

Ezekiel, that’s a great anecdote. — Posted @ Thursday, July 11, 2013 5:56 PM by Benjamin McDonald

Not everything in massage can be measured scientifically. I agree that therapists should not spread myths, but something is happening not only to the body but to the mind. Many times after a good massage I felt like I was walking on clouds, I felt happy, my mind was peaceful, and my energy felt balanced.  For me this is a real tangible benefit that something got flushed out my energy system. I can’t prove it but I know it is real. In my opinion it is not sufficient to just talk to clients about scientifically measurable benefits. Some things cannot be measured, like the love you feel for your child, but we all know it is real.  I happen to live and practice massage in Asia, and here there is less emphasis on scientific arguments and more emphasis on energetic change and personal experience. — Posted @ Thursday, July 11, 2013 11:37 PM by Shama

I completely agree with Shama – we, as therapists, should not spread misinformation, but a lot of the good we do people is not quantifiable! — Posted @ Friday, July 19, 2013 12:47 PM by Tara

I’m just glad you have the nerve to tell all these things, never discussed it with my clients, like you I don’t believe on those things. basically mine is Pain Management by a Controlled sliding deep tissue muscle therapy — Posted @ Tuesday, September 24, 2013 12:25 AM by Danilo Teodoro

The amount of pressure I use when working on fibrosis is a heck of a lot stronger then the water pressure in a shower. — Posted @ Tuesday, October 01, 2013 11:43 PM by Bill Haynes

Regarding toxins, can anyone explain then why clients can feel light headed after a treatment (and it’s not from being on the table for too long) and can get headaches a day or so after? Occasionally I have had clients who spend the next day vomiting and get this from any massage they have ever had. Many clients also get the flu.  I specialise in ligament and tendon manipulation which can be very powerful in pain relief. I won’t treat athletes within three days of their competition because they may feel ill.  I’m interested to know if this isn’t caused from toxin release what is it? — Posted @ Thursday, October 17, 2013 9:36 PM by James Parker

I also wold love to know the answer to James Parker’s question. My client wanted to know why she felt so woozy, almost dizzy. Because I’m not sure yet where I stand on the toxins debate, I couldn’t answer her question. What else could cause this?? From a scientific standpoint, it’s not toxins. But why do clients feel dizzy and get headaches after a massage? It seems completely logical to me that if we’ve just oxygenated their whole body in a full body massage, worked on knots and TP’s, and worked more blood flow into their tissues, that we’ve knocked some “toxins” loose. I’m even more confused now. I enjoy your posts – thank you. — Posted @ Saturday, October 26, 2013 6:59 PM by Amber

Amber & Peter, Good questions. I don’t know the answer, and I don’t know anyone can say with certainty what the answers to your questions are. Part of being an evidence-based practitioner is acknowledging that we don’t know all the answers. Sometimes it’s best to say “I [we] don’t know.” That’s what I love about this blog–that it acknowledges we don’t know a lot, and encourages us to acknowledge our lack of knowledge, rather than making unfounded claims. I also believe that from a business standpoint, clients appreciate when therapists acknowledge their limitations, rather than overstating their knowledge. — Posted @ Sunday, October 27, 2013 1:43 AM by Benjamin McDonald

Thank you for writing this piece WITH sources. I can’t tell you how often I hear about DOMS and lactic acid build up. I cringe every time I hear it. It’s a myth that seems to be written in stone for many people. — Posted @ Monday, November 04, 2013 2:38 PM by Marvin Fontanilla

Massage during the 1st trimester is not contraindicated as long as no other contraindications exist. HOWEVER, according to AmericanPregnancy.org, most miscarriages occur in the 1st 13 weeks of pregnancy and according to the ACOG the risk of miscarriage in the 1st 2 weeks is 75% compared to a 5 to 10 percent chance after 20 weeks. I teach my students the facts as presented by reliable sources and let them know that even though massage does not CAUSE miscarriage, you should think about your role as a CAM practitioner and how you would defend yourself in court if the client decided that the miscarriage was due to pressure applied to the lower back and the “twinge” of pain felt when you touched the sacrum. I encourage my students to err on the side of caution but give them factual data to make their own decisions. — Posted @ Monday, February 03, 2014 5:52 PM by Truth Seeker

There seems to be differing views on this idea. For instance, Lymphatic Drainage – http://www.livescience.com/26983-lymphatic-system.html — Posted @ Tuesday, March 11, 2014 9:35 PM by legendsleuth

Thank you Sarah for your interesting and informative read regarding flushing toxins.  In light of what you’re saying, I would like to know how you would respond to a client who asks exactly what you’re doing when releasing active trigger points? I am now left wondering! — Posted @ Sunday, March 16, 2014 8:33 PM by Tony Harding

Firstly you say massage does not move or remove toxins, more so we don’t have any toxins in the first place, yet there are “other” methods of removing toxins such as oil pulling, detoxing etc, so I find it really hard to believe that massage doesn’t at the very least move those around.. Secondly I do agree that massage does not spread cancer, but you say massage is no more than a comparison of the water pressure from the shower- now if I was to perform that style of massage, my clients would go mad if I massaged them with light pressure similar to their shower… Thirdly, you suggest receiving a pregnancy massage from someone qualified in that area- why?? Because It can be harmful to the baby… Why suggest that it has no effect, then state that It needed to be performed by someone qualified in that area, is that because there are particular areas to avoid, pressure needed to be adjusted- sounds to me that you too agree massage in first trimester is a touchy one….  I think you are just creating another myth!! — Posted @ Saturday, June 07, 2014 7:55 PM by Cristy

I was told by my urologist that an aggressive prostatic massage could in the best case spread bacteria out of the prostate and it the worst case break an spread cancer. What do you think? — Posted @ Monday, June 23, 2014 7:05 PM by pepe

I think that prostate massage is dramatically out of my scope of practice. So I have no thoughts on this. — Posted @ Monday, June 23, 2014 7:07 PM by Allissa

great article. thank you.  i’ve been an LMT for 20 years and this is all correct.   My M.O. is:  for massages in the 1st trimester and in cancer cases i require an “ok” from the client’s doctor (in the form of note or email)- no exceptions. one thing i won’t ever do is assume there are zero chances of complications (as improbable as they may be).   Besides working with 100% certainty, this has helped to establish professional relationships based on trust, caring, and respect, especially with regard to their doctor(s). It’s never been a problem to get “clearance” when needed.  Cheers.   — Posted @ Monday, August 04, 2014 4:24 PM by Tania Velasquez

Thanks for this article. I shared it with a new group I started on Facebook (Skeptical Massage Therapists). Great work! — Posted @ Thursday, August 07, 2014 11:18 AM by Brantley Moate

Sarah,  The misconception is that massage removes “toxins.” Massage therapy releases metabolic waste, something that most people don’t know about so people substitute it with the word toxin. This helps catalyze the body’s waste removal process. you can see what I’m talking about here:  <a>http://www.hitechmassagechairs.com/news/does-massage-remove-toxins/  I hear your frustration! Thanks for clearing the air!    — Posted @ Wednesday, August 27, 2014 4:11 PM by Jelani Burton