May 23rd, 2018
In today’s blog/video is all about busting some of the most common myths that still seem to exist in the industry, despite having been debunked for years. Now I know I usually do more business specific blog/videos, but this needs to be covered for a number of reasons, one being that you can’t exactly be taken seriously or treat your clients effectively, and therefore grow your business, if you’re perpetuating these myths. So there’s a lot of misinformation out there; a lot of things that are still being taught to this day that are completely outdated and have no scientific backing whatsoever.
Myth #1: Massage should not be performed in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Now this whole idea is based on the theory that massage could somehow trigger a miscarriage or preterm labor. Let me first say there has NEVER EVER EVER been a case where a massage has been linked to a miscarriage or to preterm labor. Miscarriages happen in about 15% of pregnancies, and as horrible as that is, that’s just the way it is – and most of these occur in that first trimester. Miscarriages are more than likely caused by some chromosomal defect or other anatomical or physiological issue. This idea that you can’t touch a pregnant woman in the first trimester for fear of causing a miscarriage is just completely false. It’s fear mongering. If that’s the case, then you should start handing out pregnancy tests at the door for all your female clients, because most women don’t even know they’re pregnant until at least halfway through the first trimester! Now, if you don’t want to take the risk of a client blaming you for a miscarriage – that you had nothing to do with of course – but people lash out sometimes during traumatic experiences and loss, it’s perfectly fine for you to turn them away…HOWEVER, please for the love of all things holy, have a prenatal therapist you can refer them to and do not tell them they can’t get massage while they’re in their first trimester. Unless there are some serious high risk factors, a general relaxation massage is perfectly safe – and if you don’t feel comfortable doing that or just want to cover your own ass, that’s fine, just have somewhere to send them so they’re not left completely without. Now as for the myth of these pressure points on the ankles and wrists that could spontaneously cause a miscarriage or preterm labor…absolutely false as well. First of all, if women had a magic button like that, we wouldn’t need Pitocin to induce labor, and my daughter would have been born much sooner than she was because those last 2 weeks past her due date were hell. And secondly, the entire concept of pressure points, if you prescribe to that belief system, is that they’re meant to bring balance to the body; not upend some really complex biological process. So why on earth would they suddenly be off limits. That’s like saying somebody has a heart condition, you better not work on any points related to the heart, they could have a heart attack. It makes no sense! So no matter what, get training in prenatal massage if you ever want to work on pregnant clients so you know what you’re doing, but please don’t spread this myth that massage is somehow dangerous for pregnant women at any stage. They’re not fragile little flowers that are going to fall apart at any second.
Myth #2: Massage is contraindicated for those who have cancer.
This is completely false and has been debunked since probably the 90s, but is unfortunately still taught. The theory surrounding this is based on the idea that massage could potentially spread cancer because there may be some increase in circulation caused by the massage. But again, this has been proven to be false. That’s like saying that walking or general exercise would spread cancer. Metastasis is an extremely complex process and massage will have no affect on it. There are a lot of nuances to oncology massage and a lot to understand about the medications and treatments, and side effects and all that stuff, so either get training in oncology massage if you’ll be working on someone who currently has cancer, or find a therapist you can refer those people to so they can get the best massage possible. Now let’s take a gander at one of the most pervasive…
Myth #3: That massage releases toxins and that somehow we’re squeezing these horrible ‘toxins’ out of the muscles during massage and our clients need to drink a lot of water in order to flush them out or they’ll be sick the next day…
You know, because of all those toxins that are just floating around. This is completely and utterly false. First, before we get into the physiology of what’s happening in a massage and why this idea is simply not true, we have to define what we mean by “toxins”. So this is such a buzzword…everybody wants to have the latest and greatest thing to rid the body of all those evil toxins, but very few ever mention what they’re actually referring to. A toxin is defined as any kind of ‘poisonous substance’ that can cause harm to the body when introduced. So that could be things like nicotine, alcohol, heavy metals…things like that. But the body has a really cool self-cleaning system that takes care of most of these things at the normal levels at which they’re usually introduced to the body. It’s called the liver and kidneys… which work to filter and excrete these real poisons from the body. If you want to get really technical you could throw the respiratory system, skin, and colon in there if you want to talk about all the ways your body rids itself of real life toxins….BUT, for the everyday stuff we’re all exposed to, or even some excess that people may put themselves through, the body handles it really well all on its own as long as it has the proper nutrition and hydration to keep that liver and those kidneys functioning optimally. And then there lies this idea that these toxins are just somehow sitting in our muscles, waiting to get squeezed out with a good old fashioned massage. That’s just not happening. Let’s look at an example of a real toxin…heavy metals. When the body is exposed to high levels of heavy metals, especially chronically, the last place it wants to store that excess that it can’t flush out is in the muscles. Our bodies are pretty dang smart and know that if it has to store something dangerous, it’s going to store it as far away from vital organs and nerves as possible…so oftentimes it’s actually stored in the bones – and the last thing you want to do, even if it was physiologically possible, would be to stir all that up and overload the liver and kidneys trying to flush it all out. If massage could release these toxins and somehow rid the body of toxins, doctors would have been prescribing massage therapy sessions to everybody in Flint, Michigan instead of actual medicine. Now I love massage and it does wonders for the body, but releasing toxins is not one of those wondrous things. But we can’t talk about this myth without mentioning the ever-famous lactic acid. The massage industry has done a dang good job of demonizing lactic acid as this horrible toxin that sits in our muscles and causes pain, and some even teach that muscle “knots” are big hunks of lactic acid that we need to squeeze the bejeezus out of. But yet again, this is untrue. Lactic acid is a normal byproduct of glycolysis…and without getting super technical and losing those of you who don’t want another physiology lesson, let’s keep this simple. Lactic acid is normal…it’s supposed to be produced by the muscle for fuel when there’s not enough oxygen. But it can be dangerous…the muscles will basically reach total fatigue and shut down once lactic acid levels get too high. Then it’s just a matter of enough oxygen getting back into the muscle to reduce those lactic acid levels. You hear that…once the muscle has enough oxygen again, all that “evil” lactic acid is gone. So this lactic acid isn’t just sitting around in the muscle for us to squeeze out. Usually within about 15 minutes or so after strenuous exercise stops, the oxygen levels are replenished and lactic acid levels are back to normal. In fact, one study even states that massage “impairs lactic acid and hydrogen ion removal from muscle.” Hear that…massage may slow down the process, not speed it up. So what are those “knots” if they’re not lactic acid or some build-up of toxins…more than likely they’re a normal anatomical structure. Think of that horrible “knot” that EVERYONE has at the superior angle of the scapula. It’s usually pretty pronounced in most people, right? But isn’t it interesting that we somehow all store this supposed toxin in the exact same place? That’s because it’s not some toxin….it’s normal muscular structures. You have your levator scap attachment – a pretty thick tendon – sitting just under the trap…that leads to this feel of a “knot”. That’s why you can’t ever work that out or get rid of it…because there’s nothing to get rid of? Why is it tender on most people? Because it’s a freaking tendon…dig into any tendon on just about anybody and it’ll probably be pretty tender. Now for some, those “knots” you’re feeling may be scar tissue from a previous injury…perfectly plausible, but please have an in depth understanding of anatomy so you know the difference. Alright, so the last part of this whole thing to dismantle…since we know that knots are not lactic acid or any other toxin, and we know that massage isn’t squeezing that sort of thing out of the muscle and circulating junk throughout the body, then why do some people feel sick after a massage? It’s really up for debate, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus, but let’s look at some possibilities. First, a lot of people are somewhat dehydrated, but not enough to show much in the way of symptoms. And massage has a diuretic effect on the body, so it’s possible that they’re just slightly more dehydrated to the point of showing symptoms after a massage…hence the reason it’s important they drink water – not to flush out toxins, but to replenish any water loss caused by the massage…plus a little extra water doesn’t hurt anybody. Do they need to chug hundreds of ounces after a massage? No. An extra glass or two is probably plenty. It’s also possible that their soreness and headaches and such are positional in nature. Some people may feel fine laying on a flat surface for a while, but keeping their neck or back in that unnatural curvature may prove to cause some irritation that isn’t felt until later. I know for me personally, it never bothered me to lay flat on a massage table – I’ve done it hundreds of times over the years. But after I had my daughter, I had to start using a towel or pillow under my neck because I could no longer get a massage without getting a pretty serious cervicogenic headache shortly after. Something about the relaxin during pregnancy and a history of whiplash and neck problems I guess just caused some extra laxity or something that simply doesn’t allow me to lay flat like that anymore. Don’t know why for sure, just know that having my neck supported when laying flat helps prevent a headache now. And yet another theory surrounds the idea of rhabdo – which is a condition often associated with severe tissue damage, like what people may experience after running a marathon or with crush injuries, but it may be possible that, with deep pressure especially, we’re causing a very very mild form of rhabdo. What this is is a rapid breakdown of muscle tissue causing a significant release of myoglobin resulting in nausea, muscle pain, weakness, and brain fog – all characteristics of that post-massage flu-like feeling. While nobody wants to admit that we’re possibly causing muscle damage, with some serious deep tissue or deep work before warming up the tissues and calming the nervous system, it’s quite possible that we really are. So let’s try not to blame our clients for their own soreness after a massage, for not drinking enough water, when in reality, it may very well be that we damaged their muscles. Now that’s not to say it was pure harm to the body – just like with working out, sometimes you have to break down tissues in order to build them, but that’s a debate for another day. Alright, while there’s a lot of misinformation and a ton of things that are taught incorrectly or only halfway, to keep this short I just wanted to hit the 3 big myths I hear over and over again.
So, I hope this helped clear up some of the nonsense that’s so often spread through our profession and give you a better understanding of what massage can and cannot do.
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