Massages releasing toxins? Truth or Fiction?
June 19, 2006 6:55 PM   Subscribe

What toxins are released by massaging tense muscles? I have a friend who is training for her massage certification, who told me after she worked on my shoulders to be sure to drink lots of water to flush out the toxins that were released when she massaged my shoulders. But when asked, couldn't tell me what they were. What toxins would be released? Is there science behind this claim?
posted by gilsonal to Health & Fitness (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The toxins are of the BS variety for the overwhelming majority of the population.
posted by 517 at 6:58 PM on June 19, 2006

There isn't any science behind this claim.
posted by wilful at 6:59 PM on June 19, 2006

Previous discussion.
posted by occhiblu at 7:17 PM on June 19, 2006

Look: get yourself a nice pork roast. Take it home and give a good massage. Notice the toxins leaking out of it? No? There you go. Now drink some water and fix yourself a nice pork roast.
posted by SPrintF at 7:17 PM on June 19, 2006

Check out this previous AskMe.
posted by purephase at 7:19 PM on June 19, 2006

Damn you occhiblu! ;)
posted by purephase at 7:20 PM on June 19, 2006

I concur: total BS. The whole fetishization of "toxins" in "alternative" medicine is absurd. Obviously, it is rooted in paranoia and gullibility. Your body is designed to handle and reject many "toxins." Others, that can kill you, won't be dispenesed with by enemas or massages. Puh-leeze.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:55 PM on June 19, 2006

Muscles consume various substances and then produce several other substances during metabolic activity that are either excreted, or converted into related substances and excreted. Usually these are shipped off to the liver for disposal or transformation back into glucose, which is then released and sent back to the muscles for re-use. They are not "toxic" as long as you have a correctly functioning liver.

Things to look up:

Cori Cycle
Alanine Cycle
Ketone Bodies
posted by meehawl at 8:00 PM on June 19, 2006

I heard so much about "toxins" being released from my muscles in a yoga class that when I was getting a birth control shot (which has gotta stay in your body for 3 months, you know), I asked "I can't 'release' this 'toxin' out of my body by exercising a lot or, like, fasting, can I?" The nurse kinda tried not to laugh at me.

On the other hand, after her first massage, my mom got this crazy sickness, so either, chance, or... free-floating toxins!
posted by salvia at 8:20 PM on June 19, 2006

"Free-floating toxins" is the new "confirmation bias." :)

Seriously, though, I asked my massagin' friend (who is not a professional, but studies a bit and seems to know more than the average person) and she hasn't heard of the toxins thing.
posted by danb at 8:41 PM on June 19, 2006

Toxins are bullshit. However, anecdotally, I will say that it's a good idea to drink water after a massage or for some reason your muscles tend to tense right back up.
posted by radioamy at 8:54 PM on June 19, 2006

My massage therapist 'fesses up that the "toxins" line is not believed to be literally, medically true by her, or many many other massage therapists. The water is important because most people are dehydrated. There is a subset of people (both massage therapists and customers of massage therapists) who emotionally personalize the therapy more than some (i.e. it's not just about a tight neck muscle, it's about both physically and mentally dispelling the tension.) This may be more new-agey than how you or me feel about massage therapy, but perhaps you can see how the ritual of post-massage water and "toxins" become tangled into a metaphor that slips into belief?
posted by desuetude at 9:12 PM on June 19, 2006

I've heard the toxins line, but I don't buy it.

As for water, dehydration is a myth (PDF).
posted by acoutu at 9:44 PM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

And ditto with all those ridiculous "detox" diets too. No freakin' toxins!
posted by madman at 10:08 PM on June 19, 2006

Your lymphatic system includes a circulatory system, but there is no lymphatic-equivalent pump like the heart; the lymph fluid gets circulated by your body's movement, whether it's because you exercised or got a massage; in addition to other things, lymph fluid transports waste products. These are all medical facts.

Is the "release of toxins" , or whatever you want to call it, that far-fetched of an idea?
posted by mediaddict at 10:21 PM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

desuetude, I don't give them a pass like that. "Toxicity" is a specific biochemical concept. Massage therapists, like most alt med types, wouldn't know real science if it bit them on their high-colonic asses. Many, in fact, reject real science. They pitch the "toxins" line to appeal to gullible people possessed of the neurotic fear of bodily invasion fostered in our risk-obsessed society, and somtimes rooted in genuine environmental anxiety somatized via delusional thinking. Just read the alt med ads and spokespeople who use this language. They aren't just stupid or touchy-feely bullshit artists, though they are both most of the time. They are also venal. They do harm in this world. And they often denigrate scientific medicine both for hiding the truth about all these supposed "toxins" and for being themselves purveyors of toxic remedies. (Part of the nonsense about "natural" remedies being somehow morally better.) Finally, they frequently recommend supplements and such that *actually* introduce toxins (such as lead and mercury in many Chinese formulas sold in the US) to their unsuspecting victims, who are usually idiots. happily believing that what is "natural" is by definition good and non-toxic. I have one word for those fools: digitalis.

Medicine is not advanced on the backs of metaphors. Generally, metaphors cloud our ability to see things as they actually are. At least in the domain of pathogenic processes.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:28 PM on June 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

To borrow a phrase from Mythbusters this is just "crystal gripping hippy nonsense".
posted by Riemann at 11:25 PM on June 19, 2006

mediaddict, the lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system and its turnover rate is high. A massage would not produce a significant increase in that turnover rate when compared to a physical activity like walking; it would probably do less.

I think this idea would be put to rest when you understand what lymph is.
posted by 517 at 11:28 PM on June 19, 2006

Dehydration is not a myth, nor does acoutu's linked article support the idea that it is.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:47 AM on June 20, 2006

acoutou: As for water, dehydration is a myth (PDF).

Then why was I hooked up to an IV for 24 hours when my body could not accept or digest anything - food nor water - and I was getting weak? Were the doctors lying to me when they said I was dehydrated?

As for toxins - could this be a psychological thing?
posted by divabat at 3:02 AM on June 20, 2006

All I know is, I have also "gotten sick" after a vigorous massage. It passed in a day or so, but I sure felt like crap. ???
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:27 AM on June 20, 2006

Yes, to be specific, the review linked to by acoutu's addresses admits that dehydration is a medical phenomenon. It just points out the lack of evidence for the following claims:
1: you need to consume 8 oz of water at least 8 times a day.
2: you are already dehydrated when you are thirsty
3: dark urine is a sign of dehydration.
4: caffeinated and alcoholic beverages don't count for fluid intake.

It also had the caveats that it was limited to healthy individuals living in a temperate climate not engaged in strenuous activity.

On the other hand, a drink of water after 30-60 minutes of having your muscles worked on in a warm room certainly sounds like a good idea to me.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:26 AM on June 20, 2006

The only metabolic product of note that is produced by the muscles is lactic acid (the substance that makes your muscles sore) and that is easily (if not slightly slowly) shuttled to the liver and processed.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 5:37 AM on June 20, 2006

"Toxicity" is a specific biochemical concept. Massage therapists, like most alt med types, wouldn't know real science if it bit them on their high-colonic asses. Many, in fact, reject real science.

If "they" don't know "real science", then how on earth would they be expected to allude correctly to the specific biochemical concept of toxicity? C'mon, some terms have lay meanings as well as specific biochemical meanings. Ever hear someone characterize a relationship as toxic?

And besides, there are plenty of massage therapists who don't reject real science. I hope you are not lumping all massage therapists into the category of the charlatans who peddle fear. There are the supplements-prescribing mumbo-jumbo folks, but they don't generally advertise themselves as strictly massage therapists. (To be clear, my massage therapist doesn't generally speak of mysterious toxins. We did just happen to talking about this the other day…what to do with clients who have already bought into the concept and will need to be slowly coaxed out of using the pseudoscience language.)

Medicine is not advanced on the backs of metaphors. Generally, metaphors cloud our ability to see things as they actually are. At least in the domain of pathogenic processes.

Most people get a massage because it feels good. They may tell themselves that they are releasing toxins or whatever, but most people are not interested in the medical side except as a justification for something that they feel is an indulgence. Except for all the people who get it covered under their insurance as part of physical therapy, of course, who already have a clear medical justification. (BTW, a lot of people go in for high colonics because it makes their tummy very flat for the rest of the day.)
posted by desuetude at 6:28 AM on June 20, 2006

The way it has been explained to me by a couple of LMT friends is that the suboes(sp?), or distinct knots, are holding a lot of lactic acid and other normal byproducts that would normally be circulated and processed by the liver. Massage releases the knot, releasing this concentrated bit of normal body byproducts. This can be a little strenuous on normal operations. Extra water helps alleviate this. Kind of makes sense to me, but I have no training in this area.
posted by bastionofsanity at 6:30 AM on June 20, 2006

I understand that lactic acid is metabolised by the body within an hour of production - so I don't see how it could be "held" by a knot or muscule and released at a later date...
posted by blag at 6:55 AM on June 20, 2006

Weird. They told us in track practice in high school that we had to stretch after lifting weights otherwise the lactic acid released would make our muscles cramp.
posted by agregoli at 7:00 AM on June 20, 2006

I'm always a little dehydrated after a massage, not because the toxins have built up and are bringing me down, but because I don't drink too much beforehand so I don't have to pee in the middle. I hate ruining a good massage moment to get up to pee. So the water afterwards is a nice touch and welcome to me, whatever the bozo reason on their side.
posted by dness2 at 7:37 AM on June 20, 2006

speaking of lactic acid, interesting article on it from nytimes a couple of weeks' ago about a new view.
posted by ejaned8 at 7:38 AM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I was under the impression that the toxins my yoga teacher is concerned about are those fat-soluble chemicals that I've managed to gather and store throughout my life. It doesn't apply as much to massage but presumably any activity that is burning fat could release some of these chemicals. So hydration would help speed these to the liver and out of the system.

Is this totally false?
posted by tinamonster at 8:08 AM on June 20, 2006

tinamonster: yes.

desuetude: points taken, but it doesn't excues the rampant nonsense and disingenuousness masquerading as science.

"toxins" as used by alt meds is not a metaphor -- they imply there are real substances they are removing. the phrase "toxic" relationship is clearly a metaphor.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:55 AM on June 20, 2006

Dehydration is not a myth, nor does acoutu's linked article support the idea that it is. - ikkyu2

The linked article merely questions if there is any scientific edvidence for the "at least 8 glasses of water per day" advice that is often doled out in the press, and fails to find any evidence for this specific number. No where does the article question the validity of dehydration as a medical concern.
posted by raedyn at 9:47 AM on June 20, 2006

517: the Talk page on Wikipedia has some discussion about massage therapy and lymph (just mentioned for interest's sake).
posted by mediaddict at 10:06 AM on June 20, 2006

A muscle which has been "knotted" for a while enjoys very poor circulation. That is because the blood pressure inside a capillary is only 5-10 mm H2O (small compared with the inside pressure created by the muscle). Normally, muscles are meant to contract and then relax. During the latter the blood flows freely through the capillary bed, flushing out the metabolic waste products and bringing fresh nutrients (including oxygen) to the muscles. In the case of a "knotted" muscle, this process is compromised. The pain felt in that muscle is the same kind of pain one feels after applying a tourniquet.

Upon releasing the "knot", the accumulated metabolites will be flushed rapidly from the muscle and by means of both the venous return and the lymphatic drainage, be delivered to the liver, where they are disposed of.

Clearly, if the muscle mass which is "knotted" is fairly large, then this process would deliver a significant amount of metabolites to the liver for processing and water would definitely help that.
posted by RMALCOLM at 10:14 AM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm a licensed massage therapist, and did learn the whole "drink water to release toxins" line. My teachers said that the reason is basically what bastionofsanity said, "knots" hold latic acid and reduce blood flow. Also, people sweat during massages and need to be rehydrated.
Also, fourcheesemac, you might want to do some research before casting aspersions on a profession. I took two semesters of anatomy, a pathology class, a myology class and basic biology classes in massage school.
posted by blueskiesinside at 11:35 AM on June 20, 2006

Water is poison! Just drink when you're thirsty.
posted by footnote at 6:17 PM on June 20, 2006

Brought to you by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.
posted by footnote at 6:19 PM on June 20, 2006

I am not casting aspersions on all LMTs. I am casting aspersions on the ones who claim they "release toxins" by giving you a rubdown. That's not all of them. I'm very glad you took a couple of science classes. So you know the "toxins" line is BS, right?

The idea that massage or acupuncture or enemas or megadoses of vitamins clear pathogenic diseases is absurd. If you espouse that argument as a way to convince people to buy your therapeutic services, you're a quack. If not, you're OK by me. Rub away.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:37 PM on June 20, 2006

Saying that toxins are released from massaged muscles is not the same thing as using it as a selling point.

In case you didn't mean it that way, "a couple of science classes" sounds pretty condescending.

fourcheesemac, I think you need a good massage.
posted by desuetude at 8:41 PM on June 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

Okay, four science classes.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:59 PM on June 21, 2006

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