A massage after a hard work-out feels great and may be beneficial, but not because it improves circulation and removes lactic acid and other waste products from the muscle according to researchers at the annual American College of Sports Medicine conference.
The belief that massage aids in the removal of lactic acid from muscle tissue is very pervasive as a benefit, but there has been little scientific research to support this claim.
“We are not saying massage is bad for you or that you should not have a massage after you exercise,” stressed study author Michael Tschakovsky, PhD, a kinesiology and health studies professor at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. However, the new research debunks a commonly held belief about how massage aids recovery after exercise.
Massage linked to less, not more, blood flow and lactic acid removal
“Massage actually reduces blood flow and lactic acid removal from muscle after strenuous exercise,” Dr. Tschakovsky reports.
In the study, 12 healthy male students performed 2 minutes of isometric hand grip exercises at 40% maximal voluntary contraction. The researchers measured blood flow and lactate concentration every 30 seconds for 10 minutes when the subjects were at rest (control), after massage, and during an active recovery period. They found that massage actually impairs lactic acid removal from the muscle after strenuous exercise by impeding blood flow. Blood flow in the forearm was actually higher in the control period, when compared with the massage period.
“Now we need to find ways to explain its beneficial action”. Dr. Tschakovsky said that massage may act by decreasing inflammation, or it may produce a placebo effect. “There is so much inconclusive work out there, that we really don’t understand massage in the context of exercise,” he said.