Updated April 27, 2018
If you’ve gotten a massage, more likely than not, your massage therapist has handed you a small cup of water after the session and expressed the importance of drinking extra water after your massage. She might have said something along the lines of “massage releases toxins, and water helps flush these toxins.” Because your massage therapist specializes in the area, you probably trusted her word without second guessing her. And why not? It makes sense, right? Or does it?
There are a few beliefs as to what these “toxins” that get released into your system might be. Some massage therapists think that getting a massage releases built-up lactic acid, which was long-believed to be the culprit in sore muscles. Another theory is that cellular waste gets caught in your muscle fibers as your muscles tense up, and when the muscles are rubbed and relax, the cellular waste is released back into your system. Yet another theory does not specify what the “toxins” that are released really are. In any event, drinking lots of water will help eliminate the substance, or else you may get a headache or start to feel sick.
These theories are taught to aspiring massage therapists during their studies as fact. However, medical research suggests that it’s just not true. Not only does massage not release anything into your system (although it does increase circulation and lymph flow), but your body has the ability to eliminate unwanted or unneeded products without excessive amounts of water. As long as your kidneys and liver work correctly, there should be no need for you to down more water than usual after receiving a massage.
Some massage therapists might disagree with this. It has been a long-standing tradition in the massage world to give the client water after the session, and some therapists just aren’t willing to let go of this. Massage will not detoxify your body, and to be totally honest, if you have so much “waste” built up in your body that your organs can’t eliminate themselves, then you should be seeing a doctor, not a massage therapist.
That being said, I was completely caught off guard the first time I learned that this was a myth. I felt like I had lied to my clients for years, and as though my routine had been disrupted. In the end, I decided that I was still going to provide my clients with a cup of water after the massage was over. We as massage therapists are wellness workers, and we are a part of our clients’ health and wellness routines. Often times, part of our job is encouraging our clients to live a healthier life in order to help themselves in between massage sessions. Of course, I do not recite the age-old myths about flushing toxins. Instead, I express the importance water has in keeping the tissues of your body healthy. This is absolutely true! Up to 60% of an adult human body is composed of water. When dehydrated, your cells shrivel and are not as plump and pliable. Besides this, dehydration can cause headaches, which is a common reason people seek massage therapy services.
Long story short (too late!), water is an important part of your diet. It keeps your body in proper working order, gives your skin a healthy glow, and makes you feel good. However, it is not needed to eliminate waste products or toxins from your system. Your body is a figurative machine, and the things it can do are totally amazing!