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  • Cate Fisher

The Buildup is Killing Me!

Age, your kid's constant whining, a plot-twist in your favorite TV show, sure might be killing you. What definitely isn’t, is Lactic Acid. The infamous chemical renowned for causing “buildup.” (Which is supposedly why your muscles are sore after working out). It's also known as the fatiguing component during exercise. It's been touted for a very long time that massage can help flush out lactic acid so you’re not so sore after working out. There are even articles on how reduce lactic acid buildup. Basically, what everyone has believed is that lactic acid is bad, and massage can flush it out. Maybe it’s time to take our acidic little friend out of time out and shed some new light on it.

Here's the gist: What are bodies are actually producing is called lactate, which is lactic acid minus one proton. So, what we’ve been referring to as lactic acid is really its base conjugate (we know fancy words too) lactate and lactate is actually a very useful metabolic source of fuel that your body (i.e., muscles) can use as an energy source. As a side note, even in the articles we cite and used to produce this blog topic, many authors still used lactic acid and lactate interchangeably, although, some were more stringent than others about the correct terminology. For the sake of this blog, we will be referring to lactic acid as lactate based on our current understanding of the chemical and physiological structures of both.

It is a myth that “lactic acid” builds up in your muscle tissue causing post-workout soreness. Lactate actually recedes out of muscle tissue and levels return to normal between 20-60 minutes after working out, some studies suggest upwards of even 90 minutes.

To paraphrase physicist and LMBT Keith Eric Grant’s quote on lactate, “The picture of lactate that emerges is much like that of charcoal to wood… as charcoal is partially oxidized wood, lactate is partially burnt fuel.” Another common myth regarding our chemical friend is that massage is able to “flush out” lactate, reducing post workout soreness. False. Any leftover lactate is leaked into the bloodstream and distributed among your organs or disposed of through your kidney’s. Massage may be able to many things, but it cannot flush lactate out of your muscles. Nor would you want it too! It’s a helpful fuel source that also has other functions that serve your body.

Lactate is also not responsible for muscle fatigue or burn during exercise. Gasp. Well, what is? Actually, that answer is not 100% understood yet. There are several theories, of which we will go into greater and more science-y detail in a separate blog post. Stay tuned for more myth-busting, fact sharing, massage and bodywork topics!

And remember friends, be excellent to yourselves and others.


Travillian, Ravensara PhD, CMT, Lindinger, Michael and PhD. “Can Massage Squeeze Lactic Acid out of Muscles?” Massage Fitness Magazine. Jan. 2nd, 2023.

Ullman, Evie DPT. “The Lactic Acid Myth.” Boston Sports Med. Aug. 16, 2013.

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