Therapeutic massage (the specialized manipulation of skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments) is widely recognized as a way to treat stress, pain, and muscle tension in adults. But these days many children have academic and athletic schedules that are just as loaded as their adult counterparts. They can experience stress and anxiety that makes it difficult for them to concentrate, unwind, or sleep properly. In these, and other cases, pediatric massage can be very beneficial.
Benefits for healthy children
More and more spas and wellness centers are providing massage for the younger population. Massage therapy for healthy children can offer a number of wellness benefits, including:
- Help with constipation
- Treat tension headaches
- Decrease irritability and/or hyperactivity
- Improve concentration
- Ease growing pains
- Improve the quality of sleep
- Decrease anxiety
- Reduce aggressive behavior
It’s important to remember children are not merely small adults, and there needs to be a proper understanding of their unique needs. Applications may need to be adjusted so they are developmentally appropriate. For example, having them sit, stand, or lie on one side rather than the normal supine position, or reducing the massage time to accommodate shorter attention spans. Very young children might prefer to be held by a parent.
Benefits for children with specific conditions
Researchers are finding strong positive effects of pediatric and infant massage therapy, especially for anxiety reduction, but also for a diverse array of other medical conditions as well.
Autism – For children with autism spectrum disorders, studies show that massage may promote social-relatedness behavior, and help them grow more accustomed to tactile stimulation. Autistic children who receive regular massage also show less erratic behavior and are more attentive after receiving massage therapy.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – Studies show that children with mild to moderate juvenile RA who were massaged for 15 minutes a day showed an immediate decrease in levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and a reduction in pain after a 30 day period.
Cancer – Pediatric cancer patients experience reduced pain after receiving the trained, gentle touch of massage therapy, and often find relief from related symptoms including fatigue, nausea, dry mouth, anxiety, and depression. The National Cancer Institute reports that as many as 25 percent of cancer patients become clinically depressed during their illness, and massage can release ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin while decreasing levels of cortisol.
Cerebral palsy – The United Cerebral Palsy Research and Education Foundation reports that approximately 8,000 babies and up to 1,500 preschool age children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy each year. Research shows that massage for CP is no longer considered ‘alternative’ in conventional medical circles and that it is used to improve quality of life for children with CP and help them sleep. Therapeutic massage is also helpful for relieving muscle tension and spasms and improving digestion.
Healthy touch is essential to mental and physical well-being. Gentle, trained massage can have a therapeutic effect on children of all ages. Check with a local certified massage therapist to discuss the benefits of pediatric massage.