"Drinking water after a massage is important and reduces soreness," states the website of a massage franchise. Garbage, says Dr. Peter M. Tiidus, Dean, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. Muscle soreness is caused by an inflammatory response, and water has no effect on that response.
In addition to the water to prevent soreness myth, for years massage therapists told clients massage removes lactic acid buildup and to drink water after a massage to remove toxins. But science doesn't support either. Let's look at some facts.
Lactic Acid Is Muscle Fuel
Years ago, one of the theories in exercise physiology was that lactic acid (or more accurately, blood lactate) buildup caused delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Researchers have disproved that theory, showing lactic acid has nothing to do with muscle soreness.
DOMS is a response to micro-tearing in the muscles and the resulting inflammation. Some research also suggests leaky calcium channels may contribute to the muscle damage that leads to soreness. But the lactic acid myth lingers on in some massage circles.
Researchers now know that lactic acid is typically gone from the muscle within 15 to 20 minutes after a person stops exercising and doesn't buildup. Also, rather than being a waste product, lactate serves as not only muscle fuel but also as fuel for fibers in the heart and cells in the brain.
"What toxins? Why would water matter?" says Brock when asked about drinking water to help the body remove toxins after a massage.
By definition, toxins are a poisonous substance. Snake venom is a toxin, and you need an anti-venom, not massage. Heavy metals are also toxins, and they can enter the body, but no reputable source claims massage can remove heavy metals from the body.
As Paul Ingraham notes in his article on water and toxins, most massage therapists probably mean metabolic wastes—the chemical products of cellular activity. Lactic acid was once thought to be a metabolic waste, but now we know better. Ingraham points out that these metabolic byproducts often have useful functions, and we don't want to flush them out any faster than the body already takes care of them.
Plus, the other question is, how would water flush them out? The byproducts are travelling through the bloodstream. The body maintains a steady amount of water in the bloodstream (and between the cells). Extra water just leaves the body through the kidneys and doesn't have any flushing effect.
From a customer service standpoint, you can still offer water to clients post massage, as some are thirsty after their treatment. However, if you are in the practice of encouraging them to drink water to increase the benefits of their massage, it's time to change your script now that you know how a healthy body gets rid of unneeded waste products. Drinking water after a massage might be nice, but it's not going to flush out any toxins or prevent muscle soreness!