Soreness After Massage
What does muscle soreness after a massage indicate? Does it indicate toxins leaving the body, too aggressive treatment, or is it normal?
It is not uncommon for you to leave a session and feel sore for the following days. This soreness is likely Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
DOMS occurs due to a new stress to muscles, not repeated stress. It is also associated with eccentric loading of muscles – when a muscle is required to contract and lengthen, as your quadriceps do when going down stairs. So, a new stress and eccentric loading seem to be the main factors that contribute to DOMS.
If you exercise, you have probably experienced DOMS when beginning a new exercise program or having not exercised in a while. After a few sessions, even when the exercise is more vigorous, the muscles do not continue to be sore. Your muscles have adapted. This is normal.
Several things to consider about DOMS:
It is not a lactic acid issue, because lactic acid does not cause muscle soreness. It will cause muscle fatigue but not soreness. As you increase your exercise intensity, your lactic acid levels will rise but it will not be accompanied by soreness.
It is not toxins leaving the body.
It is not permanent muscle damage.
There is a condition called Rhabdomyolysis that can occur due to an exceedingly excessive exercise routine, but it is rare. There are also other medical reasons for this condition outside the scope of this article.
So, how do you understand DOMS in the context of massage since your massage therapist is not exercising you? After a massage, there may be subtle changes in the neuro-muscular system causing the muscles to work differently – more effectively, we hope. By the next day, you may be sore, as though you just started a new exercise program. In a way, you have . . . your muscles are working differently with each step, just like the muscles are working differently with a new exercise.
Aggressive deep tissue massage could potentially create muscle soreness that is not DOMS but actual muscle compression damage. There is no way to know what aggressive means, so it is important that you tell your therapist when the pressure is too much so she/he can adjust accordingly.
Photography by Anna Truax