One of the oldest and most commonly touted benefits of massage therapy, that massage increases circulation, may not stand up to clinical studies. While this study debunks that idea as a myth in a specific scenario–blood supply to gross musculature and removal of lactic acid–it doesn’t show what’s happening in a local capillary bed around a trigger point. Nevertheless, it’s worth the read and worth considering; we might be making more assumptions than we realize.
From the New York Times:
June 2, 2010, 12:01 am
Michael Tschakovsky, an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, enjoys apost-exercise massage as much as anyone. But unlike those of us who happily drowse through the massage therapist’s assurance that the pummeling and kneading is speeding blood flow to our muscles and draining them of built-up lactic acid, Mr. Tschakovsky took notes. His academic specialty is the study of blood flow to muscles, particularly in diseases like diabetes, and he decided to put the therapists’ words to the test.
Recruiting 12 healthy young men, he and his colleagues had them exercise their forearm muscle to exhaustion. The men accomplished this by squeezing a specialized handgrip at 40 percent of maximum force for two minutes, nonstop. “If that doesn’t sound hard, try it,” Mr. Tschakovsky says. By the end of the two minutes, the men’s arms shook with fatigue. Their hearts beat faster, and lactic acid, measured by a catheter inserted directly into the deep vein that drains the muscle, enveloped the straining forearm muscle.
Lactic acid is widely believed by many of us outside academia to cause muscle fatigue and soreness after exercise. Physiologists are more skeptical. Recent studies have found few negative effects from lactic acid and, in fact, have shown that it provides fuel for tired muscles. But the studies are not definitive, so “it’s still theoretically possible” that lactic acid has some impact on fatigue, Mr. Tschakovsky says, especially in events that involve repeated short bouts of intense exercise. More to the point, “most people think that one of the main benefits of massage is that it removes lactic acid,” he says, whether such dispersal is important or not. “We wanted to see if massage fulfills” that promise. Read More…