Even though massages feel like stress relief, they could be silently contributing to your adrenal fatigue!
That’s right, your monthly massages could actually be making your fatigue worse…
The vast majority of people I know opt for a massage on – at least – a monthly basis. And for good reason! Like you, I find massages to be so incredibly relaxing. Plus, there’s nothing better for sore muscles than a therapeutic massage.
If you’re reading this and have never had a massage, I implore you to make an appointment. But first, read this article.
Just like everything in life, there is nuance. And massage therapy should not always be your go-to modality – especially if you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome. In fact, in some conditions, massage therapy could actually make your fatigue worse!
Today, I’ll teach you exactly how to use massage therapy as a means to improve your energy – not decrease it!
Let’s get going.
The real root cause of your fatigue
Before continuing on with this article, make sure you’re well-read on the real root cause of fatigue. You’ll need this foundational information moving forward. So, get to reading it!
Ok, now you know that conditions like chronic fatigue are more a problem of inflammation than anything else. The same goes for adrenal fatigue – inflammation is a common root cause of adrenal fatigue too.
If your fatigue is stemming from inflammation – and I’d bet that it is – you need to be cautious in employing massage therapy as a treatment modality.
I’ll explain why in the next section by drawing a parallel to working out.
The hidden similarity between workouts and massage therapy
I’m sure you’ve experienced the stiffness and/or pain associated with working out. That uncomfortable burning sensation in your muscles is known as delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS. It’s caused by small-scale micro-trauma to your muscle fibers. It’s this trauma that releases a small inflammatory response in order to heal the micro-trauma.
I know, your buddy at the gym said that muscle soreness following exercise is caused by a build-up of lactic acid inside your muscles. While that theory held weight for some time, it’s now been thoroughly debunked. (1, 2)
Here’s the real reason your muscles are sore after a workout (caution – it’s a nerdy explanation). Researchers call this the enzyme efflux theory:
After exercise, calcium that is normally stored within cells accumulates in your muscle tissue that was damaged during the exercise. Your mitochondria get affected by this and slow their production of ATP or energy. This also slows your body’s ability to transport calcium back into it’s cells.
The excess calcium causes your body to release enzymes that break down muscle tissue. In response to your muscle breakdown, your body releases histamines and prostaglandins – aka inflammatory compounds. It is these inflammatory comounds that cause both your muscle soreness and inflammation. (3, 4, 5)
The similarity shared between working out and massage therapy is micro-trauma to your muscles. (6) Just like working out, massage therapy causes small amounts of damage to the muscles being massaged. The damage done to your muscle tissue via massage goes through the same enzyme efflux theory I described above.
What this means for you is that massage therapy increases inflammation. If inflammation is at the root cause of your fatigue, then massage therapy could be making your fatigue worse.
Let’s dig into the details.
How could a massage possibly make fatigue worse?
Inflammation. That’s how.
Think back to your last massage. Remember how you felt the day after your massage. Most people – myself included – feel worse the day after a massage.
Because your muscles just went through a pseudo-workout. When your massage therapist stripped your sore muscles, he/she created small micro-traumas to the tissue. In response to the damaged muscle tissue, your body released inflammatory molecules.
Under normal circumstances, this is an effect you want to encourage to happen. But when you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue or chronic fatigue, any extra inflammation could be detrimental! This is how massage therapy can worsen fatigue.
Massages aren’t inflammatory, are they?
It’s a great question. Intuitively, based on how good you feel after a massage, you’d think they don’t cause inflammation. And some research supports the claim that massages do improve inflammation. (7)
This study found that massage therapy was the most effective way to decreased delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Remember, DOMS is caused by a release in inflammatory markers. That same study also found massage therapy to modestly decreased c-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is a protein that gets elevated in response to inflammation. The fact that massage therapy was shown to lower CRP does indicate an anti-inflammatory effect at play.
But there’s more than what meets the eye. Nuance, remember! Massage therapy seems to have a biphasic dose-response relationship. Meaning that some massage therapy is anti-inflammatory but too much massage therapy will actually worsen your inflammation. Too much inflammation = increased fatigue.
Remember that health is not about avoiding inflammation at all costs. In fact, some inflammation is actually beneficial. Some inflammation will actually work to improve your fatigue!
The benefits of inflammation
Are you familiar with the term hormesis?
Hormesis describes a specific response by your body or cells in response to stress. Hormesis is the benefit your body or cells received after responding to relatively mild or short-lived stress. Mild, short-lived stresses are beneficial to you. Whereas long-term or intense stresses are detrimental. The hormetic zone is where your body responds favorably to the stress.
Back to an exercise analogy…
A reasonably intense, 30-minute workout done 3x per week would be considered a beneficial hermetic stress for most healthy individuals. Whereas, 3+ hours of exercise done every day of the week would fall well outside the beneficial zone and would instead be a detrimental stress. This much exercise would more than likely increase levels of inflammation!
Please note that what may be a beneficial amount of exercise for your friend is probably quite different than what a beneficial amount of exercise looks like for you. If you’re dealing with chronic fatigue or adrenal fatigue, gaining benefit from exercise may look like going for a walk – nothing more intense than that.
The same phenomenon occurs with a massage. Too many massages are going to cause fatigue. But intermittent massage therapy should improve your fatigue! Just remember that you need to identify the amount and frequency that’s right for you!
I’ll help give you some guidance in the next section.
Should you get a massage if you have adrenal fatigue?
This study measured inflammatory molecules before and after a Swedish massage. Researchers found that massage therapy done 1x/week or less had an anti-inflammatory effect. For those of you dealing with adrenal fatigue, rest easy. That same study found massage therapy done 1x/week had no negative effect on the HPA axis. (8)
But the same study did find detrimental effects when massage therapy was done 2x/week. Participants that received massage therapy 2x/week had an increase in the following inflammatory markers:
- Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α)
- Interleukin 2 (IL-2)
- Interleukin 1b (IL-1b)
Now, let’s keep in mind that the study did not track the long-term effects of massage therapy. The increase in inflammatory molecules could very well be a temporary exacerbation. Nevertheless, caution is waranted.
If you’re dealing with chronic fatigue or adrenal fatigue, limit your massage therapy sessions to once a week or less.
This is my general recommendation. Each of you is a unique snowflake. You may find that getting more than one massage per month aggravates your adrenal fatigue symptoms.
Pay close attention to how you feel in the days following your massage. If you notice a marked increase in your fatigue for many days following your massage, I recommend you decrease your massage frequency. Another aspect to consider is the type of massage you receive.
Some varieties of massage therapy lend themselves better to adrenal fatigue than others…
Are certain types of massage better for adrenal fatigue?
We don’t have much data comparing all the different types of massage therapies and their effects on inflammation and fatigue. But the data we do have allows us to make generalized recommendations.
In the study I quoted above, researchers compared the effects of Swedish massage to a control group that just received light touch. A Swedish massage is a standard massage that involves long, kneading strokes on the topmost layers of muscles. (9) Think of a Swedish massage as the middle ground between deep tissue and a fluffy, relaxation massage.
The group that received Swedish massage twice per week had elevated inflammatory markers. But the group that received light touch experienced a decrease in those same inflammatory markers! Intuitively, this makes sense. Light touch won’t cause micro-trauma to your muscles. Thus, there should be a lower level of inflammatory compounds circulating in the body.
Erring on the side of caution, I feel that those dealing with adrenal fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome should opt for massage therapy on a weekly or monthly basis. Certainly no more frequently than once per week.
Request your massage therapist to focus on relaxation techniques. Massage therapy that focuses on deep tissue or the stripping of certain muscle groups is best avoided.
If you are experiencing a great deal of muscle pain, and historically have used a deep tissue massage as an effective treatment, do consider lessening the frequency. One deep tissue massage every other month is likely fine.
Should you get a massage if you have adrenal fatigue – final thoughts
If this post should impart any wisdom, let it be to listen to your body. Adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue are challenging conditions to manage. What works for one doesn’t always work for another.
If your regular massages seem to improve your fatigue, aches, and pains, keep at it! But if you find yourself questioning whether you feel worse after a massage, consider trying another modality.
Here’s a general rule to follow:
If after your massage you experience an increase in your pain or fatigue for more than twenty-four hours, you need to decrease the intensity or frequency of your massage therapy.
Ok, now you know more than your doctor regarding whether massages help with fatigue!
It’s time for me to hear from you!
How did massage therapy affect your fatigue?
Leave your answers in the comments section below!