Massage misconception #2: water and toxins and massage – oh my!

Massage misconception #2: water and toxins and massage – oh my!

Drinking water is, without question, one of the best things you can do for your body. Not only are we made of it (roughly 60-70% depending on which health journal you read), but water provides many other benefits to the body including:  

– Maintaining homeostasis (the self-regulation of internal processes),  

– Supporting and enabling digestion,  

– Delivering oxygen to the body’s numerous cells,  

– Lubricating joints, and   

– Aiding in the recycling of waste 

It is not surprising then that many massage therapists will advocate the importance of water consumption to their clients. However, two statements that often get caught up in the mix (and taken in support of drinking water) are:

  1. a client should always drink lots of water after a massage and
  2. that “drinking water helps flush out any toxins that were released during a massage.” 

Both of these statements will be explored below because both are, to varying degrees, massage misconceptions.   

Let’s start by talking briefly about the role of our kidneys. When the kidneys are doing what they do best, this can include the regulation of pH levels, excretion of waste, production of hormones, as well as movement of extracellular fluid to keep blood flowing to other vital organs*. In simplest terms, the kidneys (as well as organs like the liver and other bodily systems) filter out the bad and recirculate the good. 

Though there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to encourage prime bodily function, it must be reminded that water consumption (and absorption) is not the same for everybody. While some people can drink 1L without batting an eyelash, others are running to the washroom after two glasses. There are many reasons why a person can only handle so much, and context can be everything. That is why, as therapists, additional care must be exercised when telling our clients to “drink plenty of water today” post massage. One client might take our advice to mean “the more water the better” and try to drink a gallon of water on the way home. This may sound extreme but with results ranging from a mild headache to that of kidney overwhelm known as hyponatremia***, it is worth the call for caution. And please know, I reference this extreme scenario not as a scare tactic to deter anyone from drinking water after a massage, or anytime really, but that there are many factors around water consumption, and it is crucial that we recognize them and not generalize.

Next, we have the sometimes-popular belief that declares massage and water consumption to be the “dream team” for toxin removal. According to some, which can include some massage therapists, one benefit of massage is explained as helping to release toxins from the tissues with water being the ideal exiting vehicle. This is simply not true. 

Two main reasons being first, there is still little consensus as to what a ‘toxin’ is (which is quite fundamental to the argument for it) and second, there is even less evidence to explain how a massage technique can aid in a toxin’s specific expulsion. If we consider caffeine to be a toxin for example, to suggest that a massage will magically expel this from one’s body through touch alone (no matter the pressure) is an exaggeration and oversimplification of science. It also adds extra fuel to any fire that says massage therapy is not on level with the rest of the health industry if we continue to defend such claims**.  

As a massage therapist, I know the value of massage and for that same reason I have great hesitancy (and disbelief) in stating that a toxin – which is synonymous with ‘poison’  can be so easily got rid of. There is just not enough evidence to support this. 

So, if we (the therapist) must say anything about water consumption, as I learned in school, we should encourage our clients to “stay hydrated” and please stop talking about toxins.   




*** This happens when the sodium is too low in the bloodstream which causes an imbalance that can dangerously overwhelm the kidneys.