Lactic acid

Concerning the recent mailbag article Does massage work by getting rid of toxins?

This puts to rest the idea that lactic acid causes the delayed-onset muscle soreness, but it still left me wondering whether lactic acid is responsible for the burning sensation in muscles during exercise. The linked Gina Kolata article in the NYT didn’t answer that either.

It also left me wondering whether there is any benefit (other than feeling good at the time) of massage. If given immediately after a workout, does it help your muscles feel better in the short-term? Does it help reduce the soreness due to inflammation later?

And does massage help if given much later, after the soreness has set in? That feels really good, in a pain kind of way, but my impression is that it just feels good at the time and has no lasting benefit.

I’ll take a look as some of the other materials that I collected and get back to you on that. I think the answer is a qualified “no,” but I’ll review my sources.

This one too. The review article we cited is probably the best source on the topic. IIRC they actually found a few studies of short-term pain relief and found them encouraging but flawed. I’ll take a look when I get a chance.

Sigh. Ditto.

According to, it is:,,849rbdqm,00.html

Here are the author’s credentials:,,fdq,00.html

For the record, I haven’t seen any actual research on this topic.

I would guess the tearing of muscle tissue during exercise would be a fair candidate for pain during exercise. Or am I being simplistic ?

I could go into a more detail, but basically there is pretty good support for the proposition that massage reduces subjective reports of soreness. Beyond that, there isn’t much reliable research on massage’s effects on performance the specific aspects of massage that cause any benefits, or the mechanisms by which massage results in benefits.

A guy at my gym suggests a prophylactic treatment of sodium bicarbonate with water (swallowed) after an intense workout, to prevent next-day soreness. Is there any scientific basis to this?

Sounds like a misguided theory (it probably wouldn’t do anything to neutralize the lactic acid, even if it were simply a matter of acidity in the first place) based on the now-discredited lactic acid theory. I’ve not seen any research on sodium bicarbonate solution and DOMS one way or the other.* So I’d say there is no scientific basis for the claim and it seems physiologically implausible, but it also hasn’t been directly tested. He should get himself a grant and test it. In a way, it would be easier to test than massage. It’s difficult to come up with a control treatment in studies of massage. Sometimes they use “sham massage,” whatever that is. The gym guy could easily test bicarbonate and water against plain water, water with flavoring, orange juice, cranberry juice, gatorade, urine, or even no fluids at all (some of these wouldn’t necessarily count as “controls”) and conduct some serious statistical analyses.

*Ok, I found this: But I wasn’t able to locate the studies that it talks about. And those studies talk about taking the bicarb an hour *before * the workout–not after. So I dunno. Maybe.

Great Article! Was this a first for WhyNot? Either way, very informative and interesting article!

It was. And I want to thank her for her hard work on this one.


In regards to the staff report Does massage work by getting rid of toxins?, there are more systems in the body than just muscles that need to be factored in.

Pain from working out can be tracked to at least 2 factors: excess water, and crystallized waste product. Waste products in muscles are mainly salts and acids; uric acid for one, and calcium as another. Muscle cells are like magnets, with the opposing ends facing in. When a muscle cell contracts, calcium bridges the gap and binds the ends together. For a muscle cell to relax, there has to be enough energy in the surrounding cell to break that calcium bond back open. If there is not enough energy in the surrounding cell, due to exhaustion, then the calcium bond stays, and the cell will not decompress. If this happens to enough of these single cells in a small area, that becomes a trigger point, or “knot.” A massage therapist adds energy into the cells, by compressing against the bonds, and breaking those calcium ties. The excess calcium needs to be carried out through the circulatory system.

Working out definately increases blood flow to and from muscles through the circulatory system, but muscles that remain tensed can impede the flow of waste products back through the lymphatic system (which carries 10% of the plasma out of the muscle fibers.) One can therefore assume that a lot of the pain associated with body-building has to do with muscles being full to the brim with excess water and plasma, which massage helps to flush out by basically squeezing it back into circulation, through both the lymphatic and regular ciculatory system. Massage also induces full-body relaxation and helps you tune in to deeper, more powerful breaths, that in turn help to pump wastes through the lymphatic system, which then dumps back into the circulatory system and out through the kidneys and urine.

The kidneys work by comparing filtered blood to unfiltered blood. If there is more sodium in your unfiltered blood, it will filter some out until they’re about even. If there’s more calcium in the already filtered out waste fluid, it won’t take any more out of your blood.

Ultimately, increased cirulation means increased metabolism. Nutrients are delivered faster, and “wastes,” being broken-down cellular building blocks, are picked up and filtered out just as quickly. If you don’t increase your water intake to help carry out the temporary excess caused by a massage-induced metabolism spike, then there’s only so much water to absorb and carry out the sodium, calcium, etc. Which means that you’ll have more in your blood than normal, and that overloaded blood flows straight back into your muscles fibers. Excess salts form crystals, which then cause more pain and stiffness.

Merged this thread with the one that was already going.

Gfactor, General Questions Moderator