If you’ve ever gotten a massage, whether at a spa, a sports medicine facility, or a kiosk at the airport, chances are that you were instructed to drink a lot of water over the next few days. Most people feel this is what they need to be doing, but are not exactly sure why. The question comes up frequently.
Regardless of having a massage, you should be drinking water anyway, and probably more than you already are. Most people don’t drink enough. Drinking water isn’t just essential to life. Drinking enough water is also essential to good health, and that is often related to our body’s ability to detoxify. Water supports the kidneys as they process toxins and nutrients, and a well-hydrated body transports oxygen throughout all cells.
Many massage practitioners believe that deep tissue massage releases toxins from the muscles and into the blood stream. They assert that the water helps the kidneys, liver, and pancreas process those toxins. However, while research shows that massage is useful for many conditions — from anxiety to several types of cancers to childhood constipation — the truth is that there’s no research that clearly illustrates how massage affects toxins in the body.
Many massage practitioners also believe that massages are dehydrating. Kneading and working muscle gets fluid pumping out of the soft tissue and into the circulatory system, where it heads toward the kidneys. Often, many people have to urinate right after a massage.
Then there’s the issue of metabolic waste, which is produced by muscles in the course of everyday function. When your muscles are tight or you’ve got a major knot, it constricts circulation in those areas, inhibiting the body’s ability to flush out this waste. Many massage practitioners believe massage relaxes the tension, releasing the circulatory pathways, and allowing nitrogenous metabolic waste to dump into the system. The thought is that drinking provides your kidneys with the water they need to effectively eliminate the newly liberated waste.
The truth is there are many reasons to indulge and get a massage. Massage can reduce levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, improve joint function, reduce pain in people with osteoarthritis, temporarily reduce muscle soreness after hard exercise, and speed healing of sore, overworked muscles by reducing inflammation and otherwise amplifying the muscle cells’ repair process.
However, no persuasive science has shown that massage releases toxins that then need to be flushed away.
Dr. Adam Perlman, the executive director of Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina says, “I am unaware of any studies that support that idea. Of course, I’m also unaware of any studies that disprove the idea.” Dr. Perlman maintains that it’s possible that there might be an increase in certain metabolites after a massage, but these molecules are byproducts of normal metabolic activity, are not toxic, and do not need to be flushed away.
As for the widespread belief that massage can help to remove lactic acid from sore muscles, “there’s pretty good evidence now that lactic acid is not harmful,” Dr. Perlman said. A 2010 study (http://bit.ly/2qTJgix) found that post-exercise massage didn’t remove lactic acid effectively anyway. But these findings do not mean that people shouldn’t down a glass or two of water after a massage. “It’s a good idea to stay hydrated,” Dr. Perlman said.
“The bottom line,” he said, “is that while we don’t know that drinking water after a massage is helpful, it’s not likely to be harmful. So if you feel like it, drink up.”
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