Massage Myths & Making It Right

Dear Allissa Haines,

I follow you on Facebook. I’ve been to your website. I read your blogs. And whether you’ve annoyed me or inspired me, one thing stands true: I trust what you have to say. Your ability to be honest, and self-humbling capture me as a fellow LMT.

Recently you have been talking about and sharing articles on the topic of massage and toxins. I read one, and immediately shook it off pretending I hadn’t seen it.

Massage not flush toxins out of the body?? That’s ridiculous! Toxin flushing is why some of my clients book to begin with! If it turns out not to be true, will I loose them?? Nope, the writer is wrong. Continue work as usual.

Then you posted another and another and kept bringing it up! (This would be one of those “shut up Allissa you’re annoying me” moments) and then you posted this article.

And somehow, it forced me to face the music. I finally realized there’s no more avoiding the truth, and I needed to put my ego aside. And even though I have gotten on board with the newest research that shows massage indeed does not flush toxins from the body and lots of water afterwards is not absolutely necessary, it doesn’t mean I’m not scared shitless.

What it does mean, is I’m left with plenty of questions. I graduated and continue to practice massage therapy with full confidence in my training and the instructors who have guided me, I have advised countless clients to drink plenty of water so they get the maximum benefits from their massage, I have seen more athletes post workout/sporting event than I would have, had they not thought I could detoxify their achey hamstrings.

I’m scared because if I admit that this “knowledge” is wrong, that it’s outdated, and inaccurate, what does that say about me as a professional? And more so, what does it say about our profession?! What do I say to my ol’ faithful clients who I have been telling this to? Will they be able to trust the things I have to say in the future? Will I be able to trust the things I’m taught in the future? What do I say to new clients who ask if it’s true because they had heard that from the last therapist they saw 3 years ago on a cruise. I think I may be having a quarter life crisis… a quarter-career crisis!

On top of this, I just landed a teaching job in the Salter School’s massage therapy program and I would hate to pass on false information, what do I say to them? What if other instructors who have been teaching for years, disagree with this new information I’m teaching the students? So I’ve decided to do two things in hopes of regaining my confidence and getting back on track.

1. Reach out to you by writing this letter. I’m sure there are a slew of other young therapists who are looking forward to your response too.

2. Write a letter to my clients confronting the issue at hand. I’ve posted it below and am inviting all LMT’s whose own words escape them, to share it with their clients.

Thank you for being a massage pioneer and for incessantly shoving this debunked theory down my throat until I had no choice but to take a big painful swallow. I have become a better therapist for it.

To my dear clients past present and future,
I have some pretty crazy news for you that is new to the massage world. According to research, it has been found that massage therapy actually does not flush toxins from the body.

I know, it’s hard to believe since you’ve probably been told that several times since your first treatment, either with me or another therapist. Turns out that the body stores toxins in fat and bone tissue, not muscle tissue. They are then processed through the liver and kidneys, and excreted through sweat, urine and feces. Muscle tissue has nothing to do with it.

There are still plenty of unanswered questions, and research is constantly being conducted to find the most accurate information. As I say all the time, the body is an amazing instrument, it is intricate and complicated and we may never fully understand the ins and outs of how it functions. Similar to how scientific “evidence” is constantly changing and evolving, so are the facts about massage therapy.

Working with the body IS a science and so we must be sensitive to the simple fact that as new research is done, theories and “facts” may change. What’s important is that you see a therapist who stays up to date on the newest findings in massage research, and is willing to set aside their ego in order to always provide you with the best treatments and information.

Much of the massage industry is still reluctant to bring these new findings to light. Therapists are either unaware of this new information or are choosing to ignore the facts out of fear that they may discredit themselves. I’ll admit, I was one of them until I realized I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by continuing to give you outdated information.

Your treatments from here on out will be conducted as before, and you will continue to benefit from increased circulation, lymphatic flow, stress reduction, increased range of motion, pain relief, among many other benefits. But when you are offered a glass of water it is to quench your thirst and stay hydrated, not to help your body process your massage treatment.

Moving forward I promise to continue to stay educated on the latest findings and newest techniques so that we can work together in getting you the best relief possible. Thank you for sticking with me as the massage industry, and I, continue to learn and grow.

Stephanie Palermo

  • allissahaines

    Whew! That darn post for Massamio (that I didn’t even want to write, but Benjamin made me) has seen some serious action!

    I see where you’re coming from Stephanie. I understand how you feel. When I think of some of the BS I repeated to clients over the years, I feel like such. an. asshat.

    I’m thrilled that you’re going to stay current with the massage research and news, and apply that to your teaching and practice environments.

    HOWEVER, I think that sending such a letter to your clients is totally unnecessary. Extreme overkill. You are not, nor were you ever, a fraud. Stop feeling like one. You did as you were taught, and what you were taught was standard info for a very long time. Let it go.

    Yes, you should answer differently now when clients ask the ‘toxins’ questions. But no, you really don’t need to proactively inform your entire client base that you were wrong about a thing awhile back. Maybe write a blog post about what we’ve learned about ‘toxins’ and lactic acid and such. But there’s no need for self- flagellation in the form of a letter to clients. Just be the best therapist you can be moving forward. That’s all any of us can do.

    And that’s plenty.

    PS- Congrats on the teaching gig!

    • Stephanie Palermo

      Thank you!!

    • Jason Peringer

      but, what about epsom salts?!

  • Kristina Williams

    Hi Stephanie! I was in your predicament last week. I read an article saying that icing isn’t as beneficial as we’ve been led to believe. Working with athletes, I too also felt like a fraud. Teaching new students, I too felt like I may be passing along false information. Sometimes at first glance these “new discoveries” seem to challenge everything we’ve learned and passed along, but after my little panic attack about icing, I feel differently. It’s all about the wording and educating clients and new therapist. I agree with Alissa, there’s no need for a formal letter. You’re obviously successful in the profession that you’ve now been trusted to share that knowledge with the new wave of therapist. Our profession is ever changing and we must be as well. These myths also prove to be very good discussions for class. Best of luck with your new venture!

  • Laura Allen

    I have been GUILTY as sin in years gone by or perpetuating all the total crap I was taught in massage school. We sit there in school listening to what the authority figure standing in front of the room is saying, and for the most part, buy it hook, line, and sinker. No one, after all, wants to think they’re paying their money and wasting their time listening to false information. And the teachers themselves, many times, are just perpetuating what THEY learned in school and accepted without question.

    All we can do is DO BETTER. Good for you for doing so, and I agree with Allissa, you don’t have to send out a letter. Just handle it one client and one question at a time. You can still offer people water after a massage as a common courtesy, just skip the toxin speech.

  • Benjamin McDonald

    Love this! You articulated the challenge of accepting new knowledge & evidence. Sometimes it can feel like a religious conversion, and as your vulnerability highlights, it can make us realize the implications of our actions on people with whom we’ve worked. I always thank Allissa for this post because it’s about highlighting that which we don’t know as much as it highlights that which we do know. This leaves room for more change as more evidence comes in. Isn’t change an awesome feeling!?!

  • Jen

    You may find your clients respect and trust you more. “I was taught this, but have followed research and learned more and now I know this is a better theory, method, approach.” People will appreciate that you’ll keep up to date and pass that knowledge on to them.
    A few years ago I had a client ask me about the water drinking and releasing toxins. I told her that it was a massage myth and there was no evidence supporting those theories. Not only did she keep coming but so did her physician husband and athletic trainer son, both of whom had looked down on massage because they knew the toxin theory to be false.
    So it’s just as likely as you will get more clients and it will open up new doors to you and increase the respect other professionals have for you. That’s been my experience anyway.

  • Claude Ratliff

    Steph, I think you are still carrying another myth. Massage does not “increase circulation” anymore than climbing a flight of stairs. Actually a lot less than climbing a flight of stairs. Think about this: Why would you want to “increase” your circulation?

  • Stephanie Palermo

    What wonderful comments! Thank you to all who have responded, I feel totally supported.

  • Michelle Robbins

    And the up-side is, the water is still good to drink. Not many Americans are walking around well-hydrated. The body needs it to keep the lymphatic system happy, which is a main mechanism for removing metabolic waste from interstitial spaces. Which, by the way, is also a function of muscle contraction (movement of interstitial and lymphatic fluid), which can be an effect of certain massage techniques–kneading, wringing, squeezing, etc. So basically my take is, it was never a bold-faced lie. Just a little off from accurate. And we all just keep on learning~

  • Jessica Weagle

    In every profession there are going to be new ways of thinking.

  • Melanie Blinstrub

    please don’t take offense .. but here’s my soapbox. The heart pumps the blood. And as far as I know nothing (specifically) pumps lymph, except ‘movement’. People who are bed ridden (or in chairs all day) can get ‘stagnant’, so to speak. Every machine that utilizes ‘energy’ produces waste (exhaust if you will) . Have you ever wondered why driving makes one so fatigued, when it seems like we’re not doing that much ? I liken it to running a car in a garage with the door half closed. The exhaust builds up a bit more than if you were moving down the highway. You said toxins are in fat? and what… we don’t touch fat when working muscle ? I weigh 250lbs and have a lot of fat !! When I get a “kneading” massage, the fattiest, stagnant areas get ‘itchy’ . I’ve noticed over the years this mainly happens to people with a fatty area, that is usually on the backside, and stagnant if you will. Maybe it’s just the nerves waking up; but if they are restricted , so is the other vessels. When I massage areas on myself that are ‘restricted’ and ‘increase’ the blood flow (they can get all red and whatnot); I know increased blood flow , means increased output too .. with the waste materials. So maybe you think TOXINS are not being effected in this process, but I don’t buy that for one minute. Is this a matter of semantics ? Toxins vs waste. Ok, maybe not mercury, or ‘toxins’ . WASTE materials are FACILITATED out of the body in this process, massage included. Movement in general facilitates the exchange on a regular basis, and increase movement … increases all these functions. I can’t imagine edema in my bedridden mom not having some waste materials in it …. and massage “HELPS” this already natural process that has been restricted due to injury or circumstance . I do so appreciate all of you wanting a better scientific data, and being accurate in our assumptions, but the scientific community is not a god. They wane back and forth on issues. Butter is good, then bad, then good if from healthy cows. When they have studies saying vit. E isn’t actually beneficial after all , that just ridiculous. Synthetic and natural E have opposite molecular spins directions, and some think that can make of difference, even if scientists don’t. So ooo, I won’t say toxins .. just waste. And I know I like having the HELP to remove waste. Just like fiber ‘helps’ remove wastes .. helping to facilitate a natural process is usually a good thing :)

    • Jeff Glebe

      I agree 100%. Also, nice article, it tells you that massage doesn’t remove toxins from the body and it inhibits muscles natural healing process. But the article doesn’t say why people feel better after a massage if they were sore from a workout when they came in. Is the article telling us as massage therapists that massage in contraindicated after a workout? Who’s the editing genius of that piece of work?