Does Massage Remove Lactic Acid? (For Clients)
The other day I wrote an article, directed at massage therapists, about massage and lactic acid. However, for some clients it might be too much information, as they say, and may not answer the client's question, "What does this mean for me?"
Many, many people have heard that lactic acid is produced in the muscles during exercise, makes the muscles sore, and that massage helps get rid of lactic acid. This was once thought to be true. However, it has been discovered that lactic acid is not what makes muscles sore after exercise. What causes post-exercise soreness? We're not exactly sure but current thought is that it may be microscopic tears in the muscle fibers and inflammation.
What does this mean for the client? It may not change very much what we, as massage therapists, do. It changes what we think about what we do. Massage still makes people feel good and it makes muscles feel good. If you have aching muscles, there's a good chance that the right kind of massage can help.
What about "delayed onset muscle soreness," (DOMS), the particular kind of soreness you get a day or two after strenuous activity? Research shows that massage may not make a difference. I am not sure what to think about that. My own personal experience and that of many athletes is that massage often seems to help.
As an evidence-based therapist, I have to acknowledge the research. I also have to acknowledge my own experience, which seems to contradict it. Why this apparent discrepancy? I don't know. What to do? I want to keep an open mind and try to be scrupulously honest in my observations. What I would suggest to the athlete or any client is to experiment for yourself.
But in terms of lactic acid, no, massage won't get rid of lactic acid. That's okay because we've found that lactic acid is actually useful to the body. The muscles use it as fuel.
You may still hear personal trainers, massage therapists, and folks at the gym talk about lactic acid. The idea is still popular and it is taking some time for people to get up to date on this particular piece of information. However, if your massage therapist knows that massage does not get rid of lactic acid, then you have a well-informed massage therapist!