13 Massage Myths vs Proven Benefits of Massage

Can a massage flush your body of toxins? Can you knead and tap your way to a cellulite-free body? Massage is an ancient therapy surrounded by many claims, from helping you reduce anxiety (true) to removing bad energy (false). These beliefs are commonly accepted, not only by the general population, but by many massage therapists. Here we examine 13 common myths versus the proven benefits of massage therapy.

Benefits of Massage vs Myths

Myth 1:  Massage releases toxins and ‘hangin’ stored in the body

	 A woman receives a massage on her upper back.
A massage does not flush out toxins or bad energy.

Truth: This is a common misconception. There’s no scientific evidence that a massage can flush toxins from the body. Our kidneys and liver naturally remove toxins in the body, without need of massage. In the Philippines, some people believe bad air is trapped in the body which can be released through massage. This is why some masseuses belch; they believe that they are ridding their clients of air pockets in their muscles, what they describe as “napasukan ng hangin.” However, there’s no credible evidence that your body harbors negative air or that massage releases it.

Myth 2: Massage is only for pampering yourself.

Man receives massage on scalp
Massage can help with many health issues, such as anxiety and pain relief.

Truth: Beyond treating yourself, massage has many therapeutic benefits and can supplement other medical treatments. Even if you don’t have any health issues, massage offers real physical and psychological benefits, such as:

  • Reducing stress and increasing relaxation: A meta analysis of several massage studies indicated that massage reduces the stress hormone cortisol by up to 31%. It also found that dopamine and serotonin levels increased by almost a third. This explains the stress-reducing effect that most people experience after massage.
  • Pain reduction: Studies have shown a strong correlation between massage and pain relief, though the relationship is not fully understood. Massage may alleviate pain by relaxing tension in muscles and joints. Another theory posits that massage “closes the pain gate” by stimulating other nerves and interrupting pain messages to and from the brain. This “gate theory” of pain may be why our first instinct after an injury is to rub the pain site–and why massage helps us feel better.
  • Massage lowers anxiety: Reduced anxiety symptoms have been reported in more than a dozen massage studies. The calming effect is likely due to decreased cortisol levels, changes in EEG activity, and stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Massage therapy is effective alone or as a complement to traditional anxiety treatments.
  • Improved circulation: A study from the University of Chicago showed improved blood flow in massage patients, up to 72 hours after the massage. Further research is needed, but massage could someday prove to be an effective therapy for people with vascular conditions and mobility issues.

Myth 3: You cannot shower after a massage

Truth: It is safe to shower or bathe after a massage. It will not reverse the benefits of massage nor cause too much blood circulation. Showering after massage is a personal preference, not a health risk. The exception is if you’ve had a skin treatment massaged into your skin. Your massage therapist may ask you to let the skin care fully absorb before bathing after massage.

Myth 4: Massage removes cellulite

Woman squeezes her thigh to show cellulite
Massage only temporarily reduces the appearance of cellulite.

Truth: Roughly 80-90% of women have cellulite. Unfortunately, massage is not a cure for this common problem. Kneading the skin can increase circulation and blood flow, plumping up the skin to temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite. But massage cannot break down and redistribute fat cells nor break the connective bands of tissue that create dimpled skin. Any changes in skin tone will be fleeting.

Myth 5: You can’t get a massage if you’re on your period

Truth: Contrary to popular belief, massage does not increase or lengthen your menstrual flow. Massage can actually help alleviate many PMS symptoms, such as depleted mood, period pain, and water retention. Research suggests that ongoing massage for PMS works better than a single treatment. Massage can also be used as an adjunct to medication for women suffering from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PDD).

Myth 6:  Massage opens your chakras

Massage is an ancient practice and some of its ancient beliefs have followed it into modern day bodywork. You may see claims that a massage will rebalance your energy or unblock your chakras. But there's no credible evidence to support these claims. The relief commonly found through massage is based in the body and brain, not your chakra alignment.

Myth 7: It is unsafe to get a massage while pregnant.

Pregnant woman receives prenatal massage
The American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology says prenatal massage is safe for pregnancy.

Truth: Massage is safe for pregnancy and may provide benefits for both mother and baby. A study published by the Expert Review of Obstetrics and Gynecology observed pregnant women who received regular prenatal massage therapy for 5 weeks. The women reported less depression, anxiety, and back pain. They also had reduced cortisol levels and lower rates of premature birth compared with the control group. For best results, book a regular prenatal massage with the spa or home service massage provider.

Myth 8: A massage is a massage

	 Triptych of different types of massage: Swedish, Shiatsu, and Thai foot massage.
Different types of massage: Swedish (left); Shiatsu (center); Thai foot massage (right).

Truth: There are over 80 different types of massage, with techniques that range from relaxing to strenuous. A wellness massage is a calming, soothing, feel-good treatment. Meanwhile, therapeutic massage is corrective, and may involve deep pressure, stretching, and manipulation of joints. Some of the most common massage techniques are:

  • Swedish massage: A wellness massage that offers long, gliding strokes and targets the upper layer of muscle.
  • Deep tissue massage: A therapeutic massage that uses slower strokes and intense pressure, targeting the deeper muscles and connective tissue.
  • Shiatsu: This ancient Chinese massage may include stretching and breathwork, along with kneading and pressing. It combines elements of both therapeutic and wellness massage.
  • Thai foot massage: A rounded wooden stick is used to massage and apply pressure to the soles of the feet.
  • Lomi lomi massage: Lomi means to “knead like the paws of a contented cat”. It is another type of wellness massage that uses gentle pressure and aromatic oils.

Myth 9: The benefits of massage are only temporary.  

A massage therapist gives a man a massage at the office.
Regular massage therapy has lasting benefits.

Truth: Regular massage can yield lasting benefits. Consistently unwinding with a massage can bring down stress levels and improve your overall sense of wellbeing. It can also help alleviate chronic tension, pain, and stiffness in the body. Many therapists offer home service massage so you can reap the benefits of massage, hassle-free.

Myth 10: You should feel sore the day after a massage, or it didn't "work."  

After a therapeutic massage, you may feel some tenderness, similar to the muscle soreness you experience after exercise. This process is normal, but it’s not a requirement for an effective massage. Not feeling sore is also normal. In general, a wellness massage will not leave you feeling tender after, as it stimulates superficial layers of muscle.

Myth 11: Do not interrupt a massage therapist, even if what they are doing is hurting.

Truth: If you feel anything other than a “good hurt,” tell your therapist right away. A too-intense massage can potentially cause injury. It will also create unnecessary tension if you grit your teeth through a painful treatment. The massage therapist is there to make you feel better, so speak up if you feel pain.

Myth 12: Massage is expensive: Spa vs. home service massage

A woman receives a home service massage as she works.
Home service massage is an affordable alternative to spas.

There are many affordable massage options in the Philippines. Home service massage eliminates the pricey overhead you pay at a spa. Home massage also avoids lost time, inconvenience, fuel costs, and Manila's infamous traffic. And many home service massage providers offer flexible, on-demand sessions. You can opt for a shorter session if you’re on a tight budget. According to studies, as little as 20 minutes will still deliver many of the benefits of massage.

Myth 13: My therapist didn't ask about it, so I don't need to bring it up.

Truth: Tell your therapist about your health history, including any medical conditions, surgeries, or injuries. That information helps the massage therapist customize your massage to your body, and avoid aggravating any affected areas. Even if your therapist doesn't ask, give him or her a brief medical history before your massage begins.