Does massage flush toxins? Does it break up lactic acid? Check out my new video on the topic:
If you’ve followed me for a while, you know the ending. The whole “toxin” thing is a persistent myth, and it’s based on a misunderstanding of our internal environment. It assumes that there are areas of stagnation within muscles, and that these areas need to be wrung out so that fresh fluid can pump in. The fact is that the body is constantly refreshing the fluid between and within cells, especially highly vascular tissue like muscle. With every heartbeat and every little movement, circulation carries on.
I want to make one thing clear: I get it. The idea of stagnant fluid makes sense. After all, we get up and feel stiff. Doesn’t that mean that the muscle itself is stiff? The toxin thing makes a kind of sense too. If we feel pain, or just feel heavy or tired, doesn’t something need to be flushed out?
These ideas resonate with us because they match our macroscopic world. When a hinge is stiff, it needs oil. When we sit in a chair often enough, it wears out. But our bodies aren’t just macroscopic and static; there’s a rich, busy microscopic world at work, even when you’re sitting still. If chemicals start accumulating in a cell (carbon dioxide, lactate, salts, etc.), our organelles, channels, and pumps bring it back to homeostasis. If tissue becomes hypoxic, capillaries dilate to increase the local blood flow. If there’s damage, the immune system, fibroblasts, and fibroclasts mobilize to fix it up. The “stagnant tissue” idea falls apart upon closer inspection.
If you tell clients about toxins, I know it’s because that’s the information you were given. The only reason I’m trying to put the brakes on this myth is because clients take this information to heart. They hear about these toxins and start wondering if they’re sick. They can carry this toxin idea with them for the rest of their lives.
Instead, what if we emphasized how robust their homeostatic mechanisms are? What if we talked more about how resilient they are, both in body and mind? As massage therapists, we can choose to focus on the wholeness of each person, rather than on something being broken. We can make this case silently through our hands, and we can openly tell people: “Even though you’re in pain, your body is resilient, and change can happen.”