Healthy nurturing touch is vital for optimal growth and development. Research supports the benefit of paediatric massage for numerous physical and psychological health conditions.
With paediatric massage, the focus is with children from about two years to eighteen years old.
Massage for the healthy child
Massage reduces stress and the stress hormones, enabling children to sleep better, eat better and feel less depression and anxiety. Common childhood physical conditions may benefit from massage. Tummy upsets, indigestion and constipation. “Growing pains” in the lower legs, aches and pains from sporting injuries.
A massage session with young children may not look like a “traditional” massage with table, oil and fluffy white towels. Children may receive their massage over clothing. The session is shorter, perhaps 20 minutes. They could be on a chair, playing on the floor or on their mother’s lap. Some might choose to be engaged in an activity like reading or colouring in. Many children like to direct the session and nominate which area of the body needs massage next. There is usually ongoing interaction between child and massage therapist, involving stories, games and toys.
Massage for adolescents and young adults
Stress and physical discomforts can be addressed with massage. Many teenagers experience pre exam stress and anxiety. Others have body image concerns. Massage can help them feel more comfortable with their body. It may be used as part of an approach to deal with eating disorders. Physical discomforts associated with pre menstrual tension, or sporting injuries may be helped by paediatric massage therapy.
Studies at the Touch Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine showed that adolescents with ADHD who received massage therapy reported reduced anxiety levels, improved on task behaviour and rated themselves as happier. Adolescents who received two massages within one month reported decreased aggression. Depressed teenagers and young teenage mothers report on the benefits of massage to their psychological state.
Massage elicits the body’s relaxation response. Studies show that it stabilizes heart rate and respiration and increases the ability to cope with stress. Research has demonstrated that the level of cortisol, a stress related hormone, decreased after massage.
Massage for children with special needs
Children with special health needs include children with a diagnosis of cancer, cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder. They may have chronic musculo-skeletal disorders or sensory processing disorders. They might have asthma and breathing difficulties. They may have experienced trauma. Symptoms associated with a diagnosis and treatment may be eased through massage.
Adolescents hospitalised with burn injuries have reported decrease in pain after massage. Massage to a healthy limb may better enable them to cope with painful procedures like skin debridement to a burned limb. Children with asthma related breathing difficulties may show an increase in pulmonary capacity after receiving a short massage. Paediatric massage may help ease the contractures in the hands of a child with cerebral palsy.
Children who have complex conditions and are medically fragile may also benefit from specially adapted gentle massage and nurturing touch. Children and families report increased quality of life. Paediatric massage can be part of a palliative care plan for these children.
For all children who receive massage, their privacy, safety and care are very important. Children are able to both give and withdraw permission for massage. Positive safe touch and autonomy over their own body is a key outcome. Paediatric massage therapy is delivered with a parent or caregiver in attendance.
My specialised paediatric massage therapy training has been with Tina Allen of the USA based Liddle Kidz Foundation. Tina is an internationally respected teacher in this field. She has helped numerous USA children’s hospitals and health facilities to set up paediatric massage programs. Her outreach program brings paediatric massage to areas of great need throughout the world.
Dr Tiffany Field is the director of Touch Research Institute at University of Miami Medical School. It is the first centre in world devoted solely to the study of touch and its application in science and medicine. Research efforts show that touch therapy has numerous beneficial effects on health and wellbeing
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