Massage Myths That Need to Be Trashed

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No longer a luxury just for the wealthy, more people are experiencing the benefits of receiving regular massage. Thanks to the rising number of franchise massage outlets and spas that have raised more public awareness, 10 percent of consumers received their last massage at a massage chain in 2012, which is up from five percent in 2010, according to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). Clients may hear things from their massage therapists about how to reduce tension and the benefits of certain types of massage, such as “smoothing” scar tissues or removing “toxins” from their body. However, how much of these suggestions are based on evidence or simply beliefs? Science has debunked several massage myths that needs to be trashed since such suggestions misinform and may even harm clients.

One: Massage removes or reduces cellulite. A quick search on Google will reveal many websites and articles that claim massage can reduce or eliminate cellulite. Cellulite is simply fat that has been pushed against the skin, causing it to feel and appear bumpy. The delusion is that massage therapy can be used to “iron out” the skin to make the tissues smoother. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

“As far as I know, the only way to get rid of fat, is to lose weight,” said registered massage therapist Lee Kalpin in an online interview with Guardian Liberty Voice, who practices in Ontario, Canada. “Even then, the dimpling of the tissue does not always resolve. Some slim women still have cellulite. How would massage get rid of it? Push the fat out of the body somehow? Iron out the tissues? Certainly there are lots of websites that claim they can remove cellulite, but is there any research that confirms this claim? It it’s true, I’ll start doing it and make my fortune!”

Two: Massaging pregnant women’s ankles can cause miscarriage. This myth may stem from concerns about liability, wrote massage therapist Allissa Haines on Massamio, an online directory to find independent massage therapists. A miscarriage is most likely happen within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and the chances of massage having any causal relationship with the event is close to nil. According to Haines, there are several issues that can cause a miscarriage including, “chromosomal abnormalities, severe chronic illness or severe trauma.” Therefore, correlation does not imply causation. Massage myths should not be spread among pregnant women, and this one deserves to be trashed soon.

massage myths

Three: Massage spreads cancer cells. Massaging over a tumor will not cause cancer cells to burst into other areas of the body by cruising along the bloodstream. Haines stated exercise and movement can increase circulation much greater than a couple of strokes of massage. Also, most forms of cancer develop in vital organs or deep cavities, such as the pancreas, lung, colon, and prostate. Since most massage techniques touch upon the skin and only sometimes going as deep as the muscles themselves, it is unlikely that massage will influence significantly on the blood flow to those organs.

Also, different types of cancer will require massage therapists to adjust their techniques. Registered massage therapist Debra Curties wrote in an article published in AMTA advised that massage therapists should consider the type of cancer and progression, the client’s degree of immune function, progression of medical treatments, remission period, and “cancer-free time frame.” Ultimately, it is the client’s decision on whether they would use massage therapy as a form of complementary treatment.

Four: Massage helps remove “toxins.” Among massage myths, this may reign as the king of all myths.  The healthy body has an efficient way of eliminating and recycling undesirable waste products from cell metabolism, such as urination, defecation, and perspiration. Science writer and former registered massage therapist Paul Ingraham states on Save Yourself that the only true detox treatment helps “the body eliminate or disarm molecules the body cannot process on its own,” such as a stomach pump for someone with alcohol poisoning or an antivenom treatment for someone who was bitten by a rattlesnake. So far, there is no scientific evidence that validates that massage can eliminate “toxins.” Getting muscles rubbed and pressed will not likely squeeze out more “waste” products.

Science-based evidence is currently the best tool to separate facts and myths. Massage therapist and clients need to think critically when determining how valid certain claims are. This is no different from patients who ask their physician or physical therapist why they are receiving such care if they do not completely understand their diagnosis and treatment.

“When someone asks us to support our claims with evidence, that is not an attack. It is not disrespectful. It is an opportunity for us to share our knowledge, examine our assumptions, and correct our thinking if it needs correcting,” wrote licensed massage therapist Alice Sanvito on her Facebook notes, who practices in St. Louis, Missouri. “If we feel threatened by the request to support our claims, then maybe it’s time for us to re-examine those claims. Are we big enough and professional enough to hold our claims up to scrutiny? Do we care enough about the client to make sure that the information we give them is accurate? What is more important? Our ego, our cherished beliefs, our delicate emotional sensibilities – or the well-being of the client? The practice of massage therapy should be client-centered and that means putting the well-being of the client first.”

“Perhaps all ideas maybe should be heard, but that does not mean that they should be accepted,” Sanvito continued. “Perhaps the reason to allow all ideas to be heard is so that we can refute the ones that need refuting. 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. I can see no room for an exception.”

Massage myths may not be getting trashed anytime soon, but the need for massage professionals to be well-informed and critical about their practice and beliefs is essential. “You see, what we say does matter,” Sanvito added. “We should want evidence to support our claims just for ourselves, to know that what we think and say to clients is correct. But most importantly, we should want it for the client so that we know we will not do them harm.”

By Nick Ng


American Massage Therapy Association
Save Yourself
Interview with Lee Kalpin, RMT
Facebook Note by Alice Sanvito, LMT

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