Massage and Toxins – The Great Debate

massage and toxins
What is making you sick? What makes you feel better?

Massage and toxins – does massage help remove toxins from the bloodstream and from a person’s body?  If you mention toxins in a Facebook discussion group for massage therapists, that is a sure way to get yourself bullied and chastised.

The great debate about toxins comes from a long line of toxin claimers – people claiming that massage does just that.   It is also confused with lactic acid and if you have been keeping up with the latest research, you will know that massage does not eliminate lactic acid.

I first heard of toxins in massage school and later in my training with William ‘Dub’ Leigh who was trained by Ida Rolf.  He used to say that Ida was a biochemist and she could tell from someone’s blood test just what session they were on.  I guess I don’t remember if he was specifically talking about toxins.

Paul Ingram of is one such campainer with his articles:  Toxins, Schmoxins and Poisoned by Massage.  The second one says that it is the massage that could be making toxins!  And then there is this one: Toxic Muscle Knots which does acknowledge that triggerpoints can be ‘toxic’.

The issue though is not of science but of semantics.  People often refer to anything that makes them feel crappy as ‘toxins’ or  ‘toxic’ .

Toxin is defined as:

Merriam Webster Dictionary says :

:  a poisonous substance that is a specific product of the metabolic activities of a living organism and is usually very unstable, notably toxic when introduced into the tissues, and typically capable of inducing antibody formation says:

any poison produced by an organism, characterized by antigenicity in certain animals and high molecular weight, and including the bacterial toxins that are the causative agents of tetanus, diphtheria, etc., and such plant and animal toxins as ricin and snake venom.

A toxin (from Ancient Greek: ??????? toxikon) is a poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms;[1][2] synthetic substances created by artificial processes are thus excluded. The term was first used by organic chemist Ludwig Brieger (1849–1919).[3]

Toxins can be small molecules, peptides, or proteins that are capable of causing disease on contact with or absorption by body tissues interacting with biological macromolecules such as enzymes or cellular receptors. Toxins vary greatly in their severity, ranging from usually minor and acute (as in a bee sting) to almost immediately deadly (as in botulinum toxin)

Dr Weil gets into it all and says NO.   Massage does not remove toxins.

So why do so many people continue to say that massage does get rid of toxins?  My theory is that is just adds to the drama of how they feel or want to feel.  Personally,  I have had a lot of intense bodywork in the form of Zentherapy and Hellerwork which is intense and VERY painful work.  I have felt so sick after a massage training in triggerpoint therapy that I couldn’t eat and didn’t really even know where I was.  The teachers took me back early from lunch to work on me more and they just did very gentle stretches and kept making me drink water until I felt better…so who really knows what it was.  I am going with the Poisoned by Massage theory that says:

that the post-massage soreness & malaise, or PMSM is caused by Rhabdomyolysis — or just “rhabdo for short.

When muscle is injured, cellular guts are spilled into the blood, most notably myoglobin molecules, which messes with blood chemistry a bit, poison the kidneys, and turns your pee dark brown.

So are those ‘Toxins”?  Sounds like it to me!

Massage therapists tend to default to the “it was the toxins” theory mainly because they don’t know what it is or what to say when someone feels bad after a massage or when someone calls asking for a ‘massage that releases toxins’.   People will say ‘toxins’ just because it sounds really dramatic and official and serious!

So what are we to do?   Do we have toxins or not?

As a profession as a whole,  we just need to start learning more how to talk to people about what massage does and doesn’t do but that will start with getting massage schools on the program and take the myths out of their programs!