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Is It OK to Get a Massage If You're ~Really~ Sore?

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Photo: microgen / Getty Images

Your body aches, your muscles are tight and swollen, and you're in desperate need of a release. Deep tissue massage comes to mind, but is it safe to get one while you're still super sore? Or will that pressure make your tender muscles feel worse?

The short answer: Go for it. "Just like foam rolling, post-workout massage is a great way to flush out the toxic waste your muscles produce during a workout," says Yvette Clay, L.M.T., owner of Thyme In Massage Chicago. Just keep the following tips in mind:

If you're recovering from an injury...

Back away from the massage table if you're injured. There is a difference between being *super* sore and recovering from a musculoskeletal injury. "If you've injured yourself (e.g., a pulled hamstring) then you should wait 24 to 48 hours before receiving a massage," says Clay. In fact, something like a deep tissue massage could make matters worse. Instead, simply ice the tender areas and take a rest day to reduce the inflammation.

If you're just really sore...

Hold off on a strong, heavy-handed deep tissue massage. If your muscles are very tender to the touch, a traditional Swedish massage (or relaxation massage) is best because it stimulates blood and lymph circulation, bringing newly oxygenated blood to tender areas. This oxygenated blood helps to "flush out" toxic waste (in the form of lactic acid) in your muscles, which is the cause of typical soreness, says Clay.

Sore muscles are essentially the result of micro-tears in the muscle fibers and the inflammation those tears cause. "Inflammation is due to the release of certain substances into the body called cytokines, but massage has been shown to suppress these molecules from being released, which decreases inflammation," says Samantha Macine, a certified personal trainer and exercise physiologist. "When inflammation is decreased, the pain should also decrease, making it less sensitive to the touch and increasing the healing."

If the traditional Swedish massage turns out to be not enough for your post-workout DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness), go for the stronger deep tissue or sports massage, but take note of how your body reacts. "You'd cramp or spasm immediately," says Clay. This contraction tends to happen if a muscle is too inflamed. If you do feel pain mid-massage, ask your masseuse to stop ASAP to avoid irritating the muscles further.

Every body, every ache and pain, and every sore muscle will react differently to massage, says Macine. While some people may experience nearly instant relief post-massage, others might feel tender in trigger-point areas that were worked repeatedly on the table. Whatever you're feeling, as long as it's not worsening or acute pain, you're all good.

How soon can you get another massage?

Clay says you could get another massage as soon as two days after your first, but she recommends waiting up to five days. Drink lots of water and do some light stretching during this time to encourage full recovery. Just know that another massage won't necessarily double-decrease your soreness over this short period of time, she says. A second session won't do any harm, but it also won't be the answer to instant relief.

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