In a massage class in the 1970s, I was taught that lactic acid, leftover in the muscle after exertion, irritated the muscle fibers, and was responsible for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). With the advent of sophisticated imaging equipment and the dedication of massage researchers, such as the Touch Research Institute and the Massage Therapy Foundation, by the 1990s, we knew that lactic acid wasn’t the culprit, yet this misinformation continued to be taught in massage courses. In order to advance the acceptance of massage therapy by the medical profession (which would help to promote our professional status in health care), our professional organizations have asked that each of us update the information that we disseminate to our clients to ensure that the information we give out is in line with current thinking.
Massage and exercise researchers found that lactic acid naturally dissipates, regardless of intervention, with about 20 minutes of rest. This research also debunked several other massage myths – namely, those regarding enhanced circulation. Although some types of massage promote lymph drainage, traditional massage has surprisingly little effect on increasing blood circulation. If one wants to improve circulation, exercise, not massage, is the best way. Also, massage does not “flush toxins” out of muscles, and there is no need to drink water after a massage unless a person is thirsty. Humans do accumulate toxins in their tissues from pollution, food additives, etc, but these substances are bound by chemical bonds and break free only after a period of degradation or a chemical action, like chelation, not by physical manipulation.
So what causes DOMS if not lactic acid? Irritation is still believed to be the cause of DOMS, however, the irritation stems from the inflammatory response to micro-tears in the muscle fibers. Massage decreases this inflammation -- not directly by physical means, but through relaxation! When a body relaxes, the chemicals secreted are altered to produce less of the chemicals that promote inflammation and more of the chemicals that encourage development of mitochondria that generate energy for cell repair.
The same stretching techniques that we employ (adapted from Active Isolated Stretching) are often incorporated in a regular conditioning program to improve flexibility, but the mild application that we use in the Tour de Shunk routine has a different purpose. After an endurance activity, it is common for muscle fibers to unconsciously hold on to tension related to the patterns of repetitive movement. We use the counter-strain to gently remind the overworked muscle to release its tension and return to neutral. So while the Tour de Shunk routine addresses the biomechanical stressors of cycling, its main objective is to promote relaxation through nurturing massage techniques and a caring atmosphere.
Reference: Justin D. Crane et al. “Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage.” Science Translational Medicine, published 1 February 2012.