The Myth that is Massage and Adhesions

The Myth that is Massage and Adhesions

For many years, massage therapists have told their clients to drink more water as it helps flush toxins released by the massage. This always troubled me as it was never clear what “toxins” were being released nor how they were being released. For me, either the “toxins” were normal metabolic waste products that would be removed from the body anyway (with at best massage slightly speeding up the process) or the “toxins” would be chemically bound in the body and no amount of mechanical action would have any impact on them.
Happily the majority of the massage world are now of a similar mind. The latest “fad” claim from massage therapists that seems to be gaining more and more traction is that massage breaks down adhesions. In my mind, this massage and adhesions myth needs to be busted in the same way that the massage releases toxins has been.

I have to admit that for many years as a massage therapist I concentrated my intent on the mechanical action of the massage on my clients’ bodies. Loosening and “releasing” tight muscles seemed to the result of my bodywork. Deep stripping along the length of a hypertonic muscle provided relief for the client and physically seemed to lengthen the
muscle. Muscles that appeared to be “stuck” just seemed freer and more capable of performing their role.

However, the more I study, the more I realise how little I know. It seems obvious to me now but I don’t believe that the direct mechanical action of massage has much meaningful impact on the muscles. The change in tone and pain is accomplished by the action of the massage interacting with the nervous system. By giving the nervous system the cue that it is safe to turn down a little, then muscles can relax and feel less tight. A good article to read is at https://www.bettermovement.org/blog/2015/why-do-muscles-feel-tight
Similarly, the mechanical action that I am giving to muscles and fascia is never going to transmit into significant forces that will break up and shear adhesions (whatever an adhesion is). For some therapists, an adhesion is scar tissue that has been laid down as the result of an injury to soft tissue. They are soft fibrous bands.

Sorry to those therapists who claim to be able to break down adhesions but how can deep tissue massage be able to selectively break down these fibrous bands but yet leave other soft tissue intact. It can’t happen. Others talk about releasing adhesions in fascia. Again the structures are simply too strong and tough for a therapists fingers or elbows to physically release.

I’m not saying that deep tissue massage does not have any impact on the tone and more importantly how a specific area feels to the client – just that it is not the therapist breaking down adhesions.

So the next time a therapist tells you that they are breaking down adhesions, please feel free to challenge to explain what do they actually mean and how are they accomplishing that.


Please do not hesitate to contact Richard if you have any questions to any information presented on this blog. Any information, advice, recommendations, statements or otherwise contained herein, or in any other communication made by or attributed to Richard Lane, whether oral or in writing, is not intended to replace or to be a substitute for medical advice trained by a trained physician or healthcare practitioner.

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