Archive for March, 2011

The Lactic Acid Legend

fluids in beakers

Since I started training as a massage therapist I’ve heard the same statement hundreds of times: “Massage reduces lactic acid in muscles. This reduces post-exercise soreness and removes the lactic acid toxin from the tissues.”

Not true. New understanding of lactic acid and its role in exercise and recovery points to a more complex role in the body’s systems. It turns out that lactic acid works itself out of the body within 30-60 minutes after exercise – whether or not massage is involved.

Lactic acid is more than just a byproduct of muscular contraction. It’s generated by muscles during periods of intense contraction and used as an energy source for muscle fibers and cells nearby. In cases of endurance training, lactic acid gets into the blood stream and provides an energy source for other parts of the body.

Lactic acid has also been found to fuel fibers in the heart cells and cells in the brain.  The liver prefers to use lactic acid to make glucose for the blood when exercise is prolonged. The production of lactic acid is stimulated, in part, by circulating adrenalin; the combination of adrenalin and lactic acid helps protect against the electrolyte imbalance across muscle membranes brought on by the loss of potassium.

Via Massage & Bodywork: The Lactic Acid Debate

If there’s a biological process for removing lactic acid without the intervention of massage, how is it that massage improves muscle soreness and post-exercise aches?

We now know that the soreness in muscles after exertion is not caused by lactic acid, but rather, by microtears and inflammation of the muscle fibers, fascia and other surrounding tissue.  Massage helps by reducing inflammation and supporting the body’s healing processes.  Specific physiological processes haven’t been identified via research, but there is research that points to an specific reduction in muscle soreness when massage is applied after higher than normal exertion levels.

What’s this mean for massage therapists and massage lovers? You can still point to the positive research that correlates massage and muscle recovery.  You just can’t say it’s because massage works lactic acid out of the muscles.  The body does that on its own.

Photo Credit Flickr CCL: Horia Varlan

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What We Already Knew: Reduce your Chronic Stress to Improve your Health

Stressed Out Man's Face

We probably already knew this, but a recent study confirms what I’ve always suspected: a link between chronic stress and chronic health issues. Here’s an excerpt:

“People who reported high levels of anger and anxiety after performing a laboratory-based stress task showed greater increases in a marker of inflammation, than those who remained relatively calm,” said Dr. Judith Carroll, who conducted the study at the University of Pittsburgh, in a press release from Elsevier, the publisher of the journal in which the research ran.

“This could help explain why some people with high levels of stress experience chronic health problems,” she added.

via Emotional Responses Can Lead to Chronic Health Problems.

Inflammation is the body’s response to illness, injury and stress, and increased inflammation creates an additional burden on the body. Generally, inflammation results in redness, heat and additional fluid in the injured area of the body.

As a non-specific immune response, it’s a sign that the body has ramped up its immune response to something – whether that’s a virus, a bruise, a bug bite or an allergic response. Stress can also be associated with a general inflammatory response.

I see this in clients under tremendous amounts of emotional stress from family obligations, job pressure, self-expectations, etc.  The longer a period of intense stress and emotional turmoil, the more likely I hear of chronic health issues developing.

What does this mean for you?  Take some time to relax each day.  It’s vital to carve out a few minutes for yourself everyday.  Of course, I suggest massage to Louisville and Nashville residents as a great way to destress and relax.  But even if you can’t get in to see a massage therapist, do some self massage on yourself or ask a friend/partner to work on you at the end of particularly stressful days.

Photo credit matchstick

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