Massage for Detoxification

By Pacific College - July 15, 2014
Massage for Detoxification

By Mario-Paul Cassar

Some of the conditions associated with toxicity

  • Auto immune diseases
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Lethargy and muscle fatigue
  • Psychological problems e.g. anxiety, depression, claustrophobia
  • Cancer
  • Colds
  • Joint pain
  • Arthritic changes
  • Fevers
  • Skin eruptions
  • Digestive disturbances


Toxins are noxious or poisonous substances which can be harmful to the body.
Although mostly of plant or animal origin toxins can also include inorganic elements or compounds some of which are essential and form the mineral constituents of cells. These compounds or trace elements include aluminum, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, iron, fluorine, iodine, copper, manganese, and zinc. Whilst they mostly exist in a harmonious stability, an excess of one element, such as aluminum, can be harmful to the body.

The most common form of toxins to occur are those produced by bacteria. Such poisons are either released by the micro-organisms (exotoxins) or occur as a result of the bacteria being destroyed (endotoxins). Toxins can be found within the cells or in the interstitial spaces. They can also be transported in the blood. Poisonous substances which are produced by a bacteria growing in a local or focal site can be distributed throughout the body via the blood (toxemia). This results in generalized symptoms, e.g. fever, diarrhea, vomiting, changes in the pulse rate and in respiration.

Treatment of toxicity

Toxins which are circulating in the blood are normally eliminated through the colon, the kidneys, the lungs, by the liver via the bile, the mucus membranes, and the sweat glands in the skin. Other toxins like bacteria and minute particles such as coal dust are taken up and neutralized by the lymphatic system. Toxic substances can bind to proteins in the interstitial tissues and are then broken down by the action of phagocytes.

Effects and application of massage

Massage is very beneficial in the treatment of toxicity. It helps to relieve the symptoms such as headaches, myalgia and fatigue and improves the function of the organ or system affected.

Massage is first of all applied to improve the circulation systemically in order to secure a good nutritional supply to all tissues. It is also utilized to enhance the venous return which is essential for the removal of toxins. To this end massage movements like effleurage and petrissage are applied to the superficial tissues and to muscles. Circulation to the visceral organs can also be enhanced; using similar techniques and, in some cases, by more specific methods such as compression massage for the liver and for the kidneys (described further on).

Toxins can lodge around joints and form crystals. Gout is one example, albeit an extreme one, where there is a toxic build up in the periarticular soft tissues such as the ligaments and tendons. A ‘gouty-joint’ is too painful to massage but otherwise effleurage is utilized to increase the venous return and the arterial flow to and around joints. Transverse friction movements are equally suitable for improving the circulation to the periarticular structures.

Enhancing the lymph flow

The lymphatic system is given considerable attention in the treatment of toxicity. As well as reducing oedema lymph massage is applied to increase the actual flow of lymph in the interstitial spaces. Stagnation in the interstitial spaces can impair the lymph flow through the lymph vessels. Circulation to the tissue cells is also diminished which in turn slows down their nutritional supply and metabolism.

The congestion has the additional effect of preventing the removal of toxic wastes from the interstitial spaces. Increasing the lymph flow with massage on the other hand has the benefit of delivering nutrients to the cells and transporting building materials to restore the tissues. In addition massage carries lymphocytes to combat and neutralize toxins and bacteria.

Research has indicated that massage creates sufficient pressure to mechanically push the lymph through the gaps between the endothelial cells of the collecting lymph vessels. It has also been observed that raising the temperature of the skin forces more junctions between the endothelial cells to open. Both of these factors increased the drainage effect of massage on the lymph. (Xujian).

Lymph flow can be increased by the general strokes for circulation such as effleurage. It can be enhanced further with more specific techniques like lymph effleurage and intermittent pressure technique. These can be applied on most regions of the body and are repeated several times and alternated with one another.

Improving kidney function

The nephrons of the kidneys are the physiological filters which remove toxins from the blood. These include uric acid which is a naturally occurring product of catabolism, nucleic acids which are derived from food or cellular destruction, and benzoic acid which is a toxic substance in fruits and vegetables and believed to be eliminated from the body in the form of hippuric acid. Massage, systemic and local on the kidney area, increases the circulation to and from the kidney thereby improving the filtration and elimination process. Systemic lymph massage as already noted has a similar function.

Improving the liver function

A major function of the liver is to destroy worn-out blood cells, bacteria and toxic substances. It also removes drugs like penicillin, ampicillin, erythromycin and sulfonamides. The liver is said to be a semi-solid organ which is encased by a fibrous capsule. As it is largely protected by the rib cage direct manipulation is limited to its lower borders. The organ is however influenced by external pressures such as those exerted by the diaphragm from above, an adjoining viscerus or indeed that of palpation. With the squeezing massage movement described here sufficient pressure is exerted through the tissues to influence its circulation. Massage can also assist the portal circulation to the liver through the hepatic portal vein. It also increases the oxygenated blood supply to the liver via the hepatic artery. Circulation is also enhanced along the lobes of the liver, the central and hepatic veins, and to the superior vena cava. Secretion of bile is augmented to some extent by the advanced blood flow and by the mechanical pressure of the technique.

Assisting respiration

Full movement of the rib cage and deep breathing are both necessary for the unrestricted uptake of oxygen and the elimination of gaseous toxins.

To this end massage movements are carried out on the muscles of respiration, in particular to the intercostals, the pectoralis minor, the sternocliedomastoid, the scalene group (scalenus anterior, medium and posterior), the rectus abdominis, the serratus posterior inferior and superior and the levator scapulae.

Elimination of toxins through the skin

The skin is an organ of elimination and consequently skin eruptions are an indication of toxicity and the body’s attempt to eliminate them. This process can be assisted by the massage movements which increase the circulation to the skin and de-congest the pores. Effleurage movements are of particular use. Another effective method involves a compression and an upward stretch of the superficial tissues, primarily the skin and subcutaneous fascia.

This article is adapted by Mario-Paul Cassar from the book Handbook of Massage Therapy: A Complete Guide for the Student and Professional Massage Therapist written by Mario-Paul Cassar, to be published by Butterworth Heinemann in July 1999. ISBN: 0 7506 4000 6. 256pp, £29.99.

About the author

Mario-Paul Cassar DO ND practices Osteopathy, Sports Therapy, Naturopathy, Massage and Bodywork Therapy. A respected author and established tutor with many years of experience in Massage Therapy and Bodywork, he has lectured in a number of colleges and centres in the UK, Europe and the USA. He is the principle of the Massage and Bodywork Institute and senior lecturer at the College of Osteopaths (Middlesex University).
He can be contacted at: 93, Parkhurst Road; Horley; Surrey RH6 8EX Tel: +44 (0)1293-775467


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