Sometimes a "truth" is not what it seems. Take lactic acid. For years, many massage therapists have been taught that lactic acid can and should be flushed from the muscles of athletes after intense activity. This truism has been passed on to clients who have also accepted it as fact. Both therapist and client thus have established and perpetuated a mutual belief system that purging of lactic acid is not only necessary, but also efficiently accomplished with the assistance of massage. Some beliefs die hard. This one and others related to lactic acid have been holding their own, not only in some massage schools and practices, but also in the community at large, despite emerging research to the contrary. Pass the word. There's no need to mess with Mother Nature.
Lactate accumulated from intense exercise actually fuels the body, according to Dr. Owen Anderson, exercise physiologist and editor of Running Research News. In a recent interview from his office in Michigan, Anderson explained the facts.
Lactic acid levels will return to homeostasis quickly post-exercise without any "hands-on" assistance. "Muscles don't need help from massage in removing lactate," said Anderson. "Massage will probably have the biggest effect on venous blood," and by the time massage is administered, lactate has already left the muscle. This is not to say massage isn't beneficial to the athlete. "Massage is good for relaxing," said Anderson, "and provides help increasing flexibility of muscles."
Whitney Lowe, owner and director of Orthopedic Massage Education and Research Institute and author of Functional Assessment in Massage Therapy concurs with Anderson's statements.
"Lactic acid is a natural by-product of any muscular activity. There are elevated levels of lactic acid in muscle tissues after exercise, but that is going to subside either with time or with any type of movement activity, even just walking around the room."
In addition, lactic acid does not cause muscle soreness, fatigue or the "burn" of intensive exercise, noted Anderson. His comments and those of Lowe are backed by valid scientific research. Several studies conducted in the 1980s by exercise physiologist Dr. George A. Brooks ushered in a new perspective on this supposed "demon." Brooks noted that lactic acid is a key substance for providing energy, disposing dietary carbohydrate, producing blood glucose and liver glycogen and promoting survival in stress situations.