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Last week I wrote a post on Facebook about some of the myths of massage. My statement on this issue was and continues to be that I am not accusing anyone of telling a deliberate lie, nor am I attacking the character of any teacher who has helped to perpetuate these myths. I choose to believe that everyone has good intentions.

Before I became interested in the evidence-based practice of massage, I’ve been just as guilty as sharing some of them myself. There seem to be so many of them, and in my opinion  people tend to blindly accept what they learn in massage school. We view teachers as authority figures, but the fact is, teachers have a tendency to repeat what they were taught in massage school…so they pass that on to their students, who in turn share that false information with their clients, with the best of intentions. Some of those same students go on to become the next generation of teachers, and those same myths just keep being perpetuated.

Yesterday I heard from Lee Kalpin of Ontario, who shared a few more of these massage myths with me. I am presenting them here, and if anyone has any valid research references that will back these up as fact, please feel free to post it for our enlightenment.

- Massage removes toxins from the muscles.

- Lactic acid is responsible for DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).

- Massage can get rid of cellulite.

- It is contraindicated to massage a person who has cancer (or had cancer).

- If you massage a person who has consumed alcohol, it will increase the effects and make them more intoxicated.

- You can strengthen muscles by performing tapotement.

- You can straighten a scoliosis by doing tapotement on the weak side and stretching on the tight side.

- Manual Lymph Drainage causes the lymphatic channels to collapse for 20 minutes so you cannot do any other manipulations after MLD.

- You should never do more than 3 trigger point releases in a treatment (no reason stated for this one – it was just stated as a fact).

- Ischemic compression for trigger point release should be done as deep as possible.

- Only deep massage is therapeutically effective – as deep as possible. Lighter massage is just for relaxation.

- You should not massage pregnant women during the first trimester.

- You should not massage the feet and ankles of a pregnant woman as it may cause her to miscarry.

- Drinking lots of water flushes toxins out of the system – encourage the client to drink water after a massage.

- You cannot massage a person who has “high blood pressure” – definition needed about how high is high, and cause of hypertension.

- You must massage toward the heart or you could damage the heart valves.

- It is contraindicated to massage pitted edema.

I must say that I have heard all of these at one time or another. Where did they come from? I don’t know. As one FB friend said “I heard it from some reputable teachers.” And they probably heard it from their reputable teachers.  So let’s just let the buck stop with us. If the words “research shows” are going to come out of your mouth, then back that up with the actual research reference, and if you can’t produce any, don’t say it–to your students or to your clients. If all the evidence you need is that massage helps people feel better, then let that stand for itself and don’t make wild claims. And please, as I said above, if you have the research to prove any of these statements, share that with the rest of us.

Tags: LauraAllenMT, massage, myths, research

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I was taught most of those in school!  I am so glad these myths are being discussed - thank you for this post.  I just recently learned about the lactic acid myth and I'm glad for the shift toward evidence-based statements.
Broad health claims and massage therapy make me cringe.   I remember hearing many of these myths too in school and being as skeptical of them then as I am now. I am always amazed that, "It just feels good," does not stand alone as reason enough to get a massage.  With that said I always give clients a bottle of water to take home with them just as a gesture of customer service and because they might be thirsty, but not to flush toxins.  I also do not see the value in arguing about the water=toxin flush point when many clients truly believe this and I hear a comment to that effect all the time in my day to day practice.  Hydration in moderation is not a bad thing and the reasons modes for getting there are not that important.
Yea you hear those things all the time..Clients are always asking me about one or the other. There are a lot of myths about massage, and the health care field in general.   I have a question...What do you think about reflexology???

Hello Gordon,

It was one of our required subjects in massage school, and I took it. I was the administrator of the school and usually had to be present when CE classes were being offered, and I sat in on it many times over the five year period I worked there. I have received quite a few sessions of it in years gone by--I would never hold myself out to be a practitioner of it with my piddly amount of knowledge. Every time I ever received a session I had terribly sore points, and they often did correspond to some problem I was having in whatever area of the body. Do I count that as scientific evidence that it works? No. It could just be my feet hurt because they're carrying the rest of me around all day! I haven't had a session in about 6-7 years, but I never turn down the opportunity to get my feet worked on and if someone offered me a session, I'd have my shoes off quicker than you could say toe jam ;)


I think any time anyone places their hands on a person with the intent to offer them compassionate touch, whether it's massage or reflexology or some other modality, that is a good thing. It doesn't have to be scientific to be a good thing. I just have an issue with people making wild claims about massage, or as you said, health care in general. Just say "hopefully this will help you feel better" and let it go at that.


There are about 600 references to massage on PubMed. There are some reflexology references as well.

Oh, well I feel fine....and a good foot massage feels great for sure...However the point relationship to various internal organs is pretty much a stretch on whats real.

Hi Gordon

Yes a good reflexology session does feel great and I don't know enough about the various points and their relationship to the internal organs but I do know some are directly related to acupuncture points. There is a wealth of evidence available on various points and their ability to reduce various symptoms therefore affecting organ function. So it stands to reason that perhaps the reflexology charts have some merit.



Uhm, well in Japan, they have a style of foot massage , and all the points are different.  They claim its validity too.. If you are nationally certified..You can take courses and get continuing education credits for Japanese Foot Massage...Ive even seen differences in various other foot charts.. My point of view ,its just placebo effect and the foot itself...The foot, like your hand is a peripheral input area to the brain...   Where you make contact with the earth and other people...So I figure the brain must devote a lot of space to those areas..That coupled with belief systems, placebo effect and so on, make it work.. Where the points are, make little difference.. Well thats my perspective. 



Hi Laura,

Regarding, "You must massage toward the heart or you could damage the heart valves". This is valid and important because there are one-way valves in the veins to prevent backflow of the blood. However, it is the valves in the veins that are at risk, I imagine you would have to be doing a pretty forceful and traumatic massage to injure the valves in the heart itself!

The Mayo Clinic states, "Water is your body's principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of your body weight. Every system in your body depends on water. For example, water flushes toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to your cells and provides a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues." -- muscles require the same removal process. So many people drink so little water, some drink none, that mentioning it is a good practice. I always include a disclaimer such as, "Unless you have been instructed by your doctor to limit fluid intake...", Hope this helps!

Is there evidence backing that all of these are myths?
Good point,Alyson. Wondering if this "evidence based" rhetoric has any real merit to it. Might be helpful if we did have the "Evidence" that backs what some claim are myths,instead of the usual "well that just doesn't seem real to me" or "this really isn't based on FACT from the scientific model".
Seems to me that this new trend of "evidence based" rhetoric is a way to further legitimize our profession to make it more credible to the medical community and conservative community who treats massage as a "oldest profession" or not a viable means of healing the body apart from drugs and surgery. I think its a good effort, but It would also seem that the "evidence based" community also wishes to dispell the more alternative/spiritual side and emotional side to therapeutic touch and caring touch. There are inherent mysteries to everything in life and how we live and what we think about, what we perceive,what we do on a daily basis. There is what we know and what we think we know,what is unknown and what is unknowable. Truth is different for everyone,perception is different for everyone. I do what works for me and what seems to work for clients I provide therapy to,be it structural,relaxation,energetic,spiritual/shamanic. Integration, in my humble opinion,is the way to go in this profession. I shun nothing and I do not always accept or subscribe to all that I read and hear.

I agree and thank Linda LePelley, regarding the water issue. It is not just a hospitable gift to a client, there is much more reason and necessity to give a bottled water to a client, not a myth of sorts as listed above. And I agree too with Alyson Schlobohm, the myths listed above need medical backing... if it is a reliable source such as the text books for Massage Therapy (I used Susan Salvo's "Massage Therapy-Principles and Practice"), then we can support what some of these 'myths' are and are not.


Evidence search is on....

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