Myths about massage therapy range from bold claims to dire warnings, but many have no basis in scientific fact.
Here we apply a critical eye to some of the most common myths to help both therapists and clients address the validity of these claims.
The detox craze sweeping the nation has found its way to massage therapy. According to this myth, toxins in your body are squished out of your muscles during a massage. There is no scientific evidence that this is the case. Any waste your body creates will not be flushed from your system due to a massage.
Nor should it be. Any healthy person already has a process which removes waste from the body. The blood is filtered and cleaned by the liver and kidneys, which is the natural and effective way to prevent buildup of toxic chemicals and waste. Some waste is even recycled to be used as nutrients for other body functions, so removing it can deplete your body of something it needs.
Paul Ingraham, science writer and former registered massage therapist, insists the only treatments deserving of the name detox are to make “the body eliminate or disarm molecules the body cannot process on its own.” These toxins are usually things like antivenom to flush snake or spider poison from the body, or a stomach pump to save someone dying of alcohol poisoning. This is a far cry from the detox treatments touted as cure-alls, and rightly so.
Massages and Miscarriages.
Miscarriages are sad and horrifying, every expectant mother’s fear. The risk of miscarriage is highest during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when the baby is first forming. The belief that massaging the ankles of a pregnant woman leads to miscarriage is a popular myth, but one which should be stopped immediately.
Massage therapist Allissa Haines believes that this myth originated in liability concerns. Miscarriage can be the result of a multitude of causes, she says. This includes, but is not limited to, “chromosomal abnormalities, severe chronic illness or severe trauma.”
With so many triggers for this dreaded result, sometimes doctors simply don’t know why it happened. This can lead to blaming anything unusual the expectant mother did just before the miscarriage occurred, such as a massage.
Just because it was the most recent thing which happened doesn’t mean it is the cause, however. Massages can be very helpful during pregnancy, and this myth prevents expectant mothers from reaping the benefits of massage during their pregnancy.
For those of you who have heard that massaging a tumor may cause cancer cells to circulate more rapidly through your body and spread, fear not! There is no indication that massage therapy makes cancer spread more rapidly.
It is true that massage therapists alter their techniques to adapt for patients who suffer from cancer. This has much more to do with comfort and healing than any concern over the spread of cancer cells, however.
Some clients are concerned that cancerous cells may break off and spread through the bloodstream, hurried along by the increase in blood flow massages bring. Haines points out that an increase in blood flow is much more pronounced when a cancer patient is exercising or moving than when they are getting a massage.
In addition, most common cancers originate in areas massage therapists can’t easily reach. Most forms of massage concentrate on the muscles and skin, so areas which are likely to hold cancerous tumors such as the lungs, colon, pancreas or prostate are unaffected. These areas are unlikely to have significant amounts of increase in circulation due to a massage.
Regardless, according to registered massage therapist Debra Curties, it is important that cancer patients inform their massage therapists about their status and general health. Important factors include what type of cancer they have, progression of the disease, the patient’s current immune health, the status of any treatment cycles, the remission period and “cancer-free time frame.”
Patients who suffer from cancer should make sure to keep everyone informed of their treatments, including massage therapy. In the end, it is their choice whether or not to find a massage therapist to complement their cancer treatment, but people should be aware that massage will not worsen their condition.
Cellulite plagues women of all body sizes, and is created when fat cells accumulate between muscle and the skin connected to it. As they are pushed up against the skin they in turn push the skin outward, causing the bumpy formations we all know and hate.
There are hundreds of advertised fixes and cures for cellulite, ranging from creams to workout routines. Lately there have been claims that massage can somehow diminish the appearance of cellulite or make it go away entirely.
The idea is the massage itself will somehow push the fat out from between the skin and muscle, or even smooth the fat out and spread it out more evenly under the skin. The tissues which were lumpy would then be smooth and flat, broken up and redistributed by the pressure of the massage.
While that sounds great, all studies indicate body fat and the tissues it is connected to simply don’t work that way. There is no research to back up the notion that massage therapy affects cellulite in any way. While a massage can help you feel great, there is no proof that it will make cellulite disappear.
Lee Kalpin, a registered massage therapist in Ontario, Canada, maintains that the only way to fix cellulite is exercise and sticking to a healthy diet.
“Even then,” he says, “the dimpling of the tissue does not always resolve,” because many are predisposed genetically to it.
There are many benefits to massages, however disappearing cellulite is not one of them.
While these myths may live well beyond the writing of this article, it is very important to maintain a balanced, informed perspective about the benefits and risks associated with massage.
Licensed massage therapist Alice Sanvito believes that the task of providing evidence to support health claims is “an opportunity for us to share our knowledge, examine our assumptions, and correct our thinking if it needs correcting.” She believes massage therapists should demonstrate their concern and care for their clients by making certain their data is accurate and rigorously tested.
After all, patients of a physician or a physical therapist are often welcome to discuss and study methods of care and treatment. If they doubt the validity of their doctors diagnosis or are not satisfied the treatment is reasonable, they are welcome to pursue a second opinion. The relationship between a client and massage therapist should be no different.
As Sanvito says, “Every massage therapist who cares about their clients should be willing to examine their assumptions, have them challenged, and be able to support their claims with evidence.”