Apr 21 2015

Massage myths busted

True or False: Massage therapy after strenuous exercise relieves soreness by stimulating blood flow which assists in the removal of lactic acid and other waste products from muscles.

If you answer “true” then you are certainly not alone. For decades, many massage therapists have adhered to the notion that a deep, penetrating massage gets the blood flowing.

But a new study by researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., suggests that the opposite is actually true – it inhibits circulation at least for a while.

The researchers – led by kinesiologist Michael Tschakovsky – recruited 12 healthy male university students for a series of experiments. Using ultrasound and blood tests, they observed the effects of massage on forearm muscles after the volunteers had performed hand-grip exercises.

“Every time you squeeze the muscle [with massage]you actually squeeze shut the blood vessels in the arm which prevents blood flow,” Dr. Tschakovsky said in an interview.

That means lactic acid would hang around in muscles even longer with massage. But, according to Dr. Tschakovsky, that’s not necessarily a problem. “There’s lots of robust evidence to show that lactic acid does not contribute to muscle fatigue.”

Why then does a massage feel so good? Dr. Tschakovsky can’t yet say for sure, but he suspects that it helps stops muscle spasms. “The pressure applied to the muscle … breaks the cycle of the nerve that is causing the muscle to contract so your muscle will relax,” he speculated.

The study’s findings will be presented later this month at the annual American College of Sports Medicine conference in Seattle.

PAUL TAYLOR
The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, May. 21 2009, 2:41 PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Mar. 16 2011, 11:32 AM EDT

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