Got lactic acid? Don’t try to massage it away


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As anyone who has exercised vigorously can tell you, the soreness that comes from lactic acid buildup in the muscles doesn’t feel good. But massaging it away may not be the best way to flush the substance from muscle tissue, a new study suggests.

Massage is thought by some to be a good way to rid the muscles of lactic acid. During intense exercise bouts, the body can go into an anaerobic state when it needs more oxygen than is available. The muscles take up energy from glycogen stores, and a product of glycogen breakdown is lactic acid. This is what causes the soreness many people experience.


In the study, 12 healthy male participants performed isometric handgrip exercises. Three different scenarios followed the exercise: passive recovery (lying quietly at rest), active recovery (doing more muscle contractions) and muscle massage. Levels of lactic acid were tested in all subjects.

Researchers from Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, concluded that massage prevented the lactic acid from leaving the muscle, since massaging the muscles apparently hampered the blood flow during the recovery period after exercise. In the study, the authors wrote: ‘Although active recovery also does not improve muscle blood flow post-exercise, it appears to increase lactate uptake by muscle and in that way improves lactate removal from muscle tissue.’

The study appears in the June issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

-Jeannine Stein