Can Massage Therapy Flush Lactic Acid?

As an evidence-informed massage therapy center, we are devoted to eradicating much of the misinformation and myths surrounding massage.  This is part of our mission statement, and it’s not only important, but also ethical, to provide our clients with sound information that is supported by science.

Let’s talk about an unsubstantiated claim that comes up time to time in the massage world.  It goes something like this:  Massage helps to remove, or “flush out” lactic acid.  However, current research does not back up this claim.

So, what is lactic acid, or lactate?  As part of the metabolic process of our bodies, lactic acid is produced whether we are at rest or performing an exercise. When the amount of physical exertion increases, so does the amount of lactic acid produced. It is continually recycled and processed by our bodies (specifically through the Cori cycle).  Basically, anaerobic glycolysis in the muscles produces lactic acid (lactate).  It is then moved to the liver and is converted to glucose.  After that, it returns to the muscles and is metabolized once again into lactate.

The body deals with lactic acid all on its own through this metabolic cycle.  As stated above, this metabolic process happens all the time, whether you’re doing a massive set of burpees or watching Netflix on the couch. More is produced during intense exercise, but as we see, it doesn’t just sit there in the body and eat away at those poor muscles.

According to the myth, somehow quickening the removal of lactic acid from muscles with massage will confer some kind of physical benefit, like speeding recovery.   We all want to speed up recovery, right?

Yes.  But lactic acid doesn’t get “stuck” in the muscles, so it doesn’t make sense that manual therapy techniques can speed up a metabolic process like the Cori cycle.  Furthermore, at least two studies investigating the claim that massage can speed up the removal of lactic acid come up with no supporting evidence of the claim.  They found that there were no measurable lactic acid differences in people who just rested versus people who received 10 to 20 minutes of massage.  These studies are cited below and were found in Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice, edited by Trish Dryden and Christopher A. Moyer, Ph.D. I would like to personally thank Dr. Moyer,  whose been a guest lecturer for our continuing education here at Amara and helped inspire this blog post!

The lesson is, since we know that the mechanisms at work during manual therapy don’t remove lactic acid, we shouldn’t make claims around lactic acid reduction being an alleged benefit of massage. In future blog posts I will continue to explore myths and benefits of massage. The power of touch is not to be underestimated, but we must be careful about what language we use and potential claims we might make with regard to the therapy we offer.

Interested in learning more about my massage style? Please explore my bio page for more information, including my schedule and daily openings.


Resources cited

Gupta, S., A. Goswami, A.K. Sadhukan, and D.N. Mathur. 1996. Comparative study of lactate removal in short term massage of extremities, active recovery and a passive recovery period after supramaximal exercise sessions. Int J Sports Med 17: 106-110.

Martin, N.A., R.F. Zoeller, R.J. Robertson, and S.M. Lephart. 1998 The comparative effects of sports massage, active recovery, and rest in promoting blood lactate clearance after supramaximal leg exercise. J Athl Train 33: 30-35

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