Getting a massage is one of my favorite ways to relax and de-stress. From personal experience, I know that later on that day or even the next day, I sometimes feel a bit out-of-sorts. I may start feeling cold- or flu-like symptoms. Massage therapists have also mentioned to me that I might feel this way because we are “detoxifying” the body. Usually, they don’t know that I’m in the health field and that I’m going to go home and do some research to see if this is really true.
Based on the data I have seen, most researchers don’t agree that any form of massage really detoxifies the body. We have organs like our liver and kidneys to help with that.
But is there a real reason why we may be experiencing these symptoms after getting a massage? Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to answer this.
Experiencing Symptoms After Massage
There could be a number of reasons why you and I could be feeling like we’re coming down with something after receiving a massage. Some of it may have nothing to do with the massage at all. It’s possible that we could have been fighting something off for the past few days.
The other thing we have to consider is the type of massage you were given.
The most common type is Swedish massage. But there are at least 4 different types of Swedish massage.
Then there’s deep tissue massage. When a therapist uses deep tissue massage, it’s possible that there may be some soreness afterwards. Anytime there’s muscle soreness, the body’s immune system has become activated to try and repair those sore muscles. And anytime the immune system becomes activated, we may feel fatigued or like we’re coming down with a cold or the flu.
Massage and Toxins
Now, back to the releasing toxins idea.
The theory was that by squeezing muscles and possibly the lymph tissue around those muscles, we are pushing the blood and lymph fluids around so that they move on to our detoxifying organs more quickly and out of the body.
So far, studies haven’t shown this to be true.
Blood Lactate Levels
One of the ways researchers test for this is by looking at something called blood lactate levels.
Imagine you’re sprinting really hard across a field. Besides your heart feeling like it wants to explode, at some point, your legs will start to feel like they’re on fire. This burning sensation is caused by the build-up of lactic acid, also called lactate.
When we perform high intensity exercises like sprints, high intensity interval training, or even when lifting weights, we can experience lactic acid build-up. This build-up of lactic acid can irritate the muscles and lead to muscle soreness.
The theory is that if you can remove some of this lactic acid through massage, then you might be able to reduce muscle soreness.
The Research & Data
But when researchers studied whether massage helped remove lactate from the body, they found that in most cases, it simply didn’t happen. There are a couple of studies that contradict this and found that getting a massage 2 to 6 hours after intense exercise might help relieve muscle soreness.
The Bottom Line
Here’s why I can’t conclusively say what might be going on:
There are so many different types of massage and different ways to study them, it makes it challenging to make sense of all of it. But what most can agree on is that if you believe massage therapy helps you feel better, it likely will.
I know that when I get a massage, I get into a meditative state and feel much more relaxed after.
So the benefits of massage seem to be mostly psychological at this point. That means it is possible that the symptoms you felt after the massage were psychological as well, or possibly unrelated to the massage itself.