By Ray Bishop
Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2007.
Q. “How long should I wait to exercise after a massage or bodywork session?"
A. Many therapists recommend clients avoid strenuous exercise for at least 24 hours after a bodywork session. Exercising after a session can both increase muscle soreness and compromise the value of the soft-tissue work you’ve just received. “Strenuous exercise" includes activities such as running, weight lifting, high intensity aerobics, or power yoga classes.
Light exercise such as moderate walking, gentle stretching, or swimming laps at an easy pace is OK for healthy individuals. One widely accepted view in favor of this 24-hour recovery period is that sustained pressure on connective tissue makes it more gel-like. The technical term for this change is thixotropic effect. This state of increased softness lasts about 24 hours, so high-intensity exercise may pull or move the tissue back to old patterns or even induce new strain patterns.
I usually suggest clients take it easy that evening and the following day. Drinking water and staying hydrated can further reduce any bodywork-related soreness. Take a hot Epsom salt bath and drink gently calming teas such as chamomile or passionflower to facilitate sleep and reduce the stress that is commonly seen as a contributing factor in chronic muscle tension and soreness. If you’re dealing with an injury, these guidelines would have to be adjusted, but these basic suggestions seem to work well for most of my clients.
I do find that healthy people who exercise vigorously five to six days a week sometimes find even these modest recommendations quite challenging. If you’re one of these people, I recommend you work out before your session and then take it easy afterward