Parent Pathways

Massage therapy can be good for kids too

June 17, 2012 

You should see the monster I’ve created.

It started one night when my 8-year-old son Tyler had a bad dream and couldn’t go back to sleep. I tucked him back in and pulled the covers up over his shoulders. Then I did what we now refer to as the “push down,” which consists of me applying pressure to different parts of his back, shoulders and legs. It worked like a charm and within a few minutes, his breaths were long and slow, and I knew he was asleep.

There’s got to be a formal name for the “push down,” a technique that I learned from years of getting massages. The therapist usually starts and finishes each massage with these gentle compressions on top of the blanket.

But back to the monster part of the story. Now, every night, Tyler flips himself over and announces he’s ready for the “push down.” I’ve tried to get out of it for months now. “It’s late,” I say. “I’m tired.” To no avail.

“You started this,” my husband reminds me. It doesn’t help that I get where my kid is coming from. In fact, if I’m ever wealthy, forget the new car and house, I want one massage per week – since I’m dreaming, per day – for the rest of my life.

But I digress. This whole experience got me wondering if massage is effective for kids or if it’s just a feel-good thing. Tammy Campbell, a licensed therapist and owner of Hands on Health in Cary, says she occasionally sees kids for a “relaxation” massage, but the majority of kids she works with are there to alleviate symptoms from medical conditions.

“Over the years I’ve treated kids for things like sports injuries, neck and back pain and also for TMJ (or jaw joint) issues,” says Campbell. “Certain types of pathologies like Cerebral Palsy, Asperger’s syndrome, asthma and scoliosis are also other conditions we see kids for.”

Most of the kids Campbell works with range in age from five to teenagers, although she occasionally does infant massages.

“I’ve treated kids through school and college; it’s fun to see how they grow,” says Campbell. “For scoliosis, massage helps to keep their muscles loose and helps reduce spasm and discomfort. For TMJ, we try to teach them self-care with massage and stretches so they can work on getting better outside of Hands on Health. For injuries, we can assist in recovering alongside other healthcare professionals by helping the muscles and reducing inflammation.”

Massage therapy for children is often modified and children are fully clothed during treatment.

“Most of the time you do shorter sessions, especially with the younger ones,” says Campbell. “Sometimes the work can be in one specific area, but you can do a child full body in 30 to 45 minutes. Pressure is variable; some kids tolerate work well and, like adults, they would love to come in on a regular basis.”

The science behind massage benefits for kids is there, although the studies are typically small. In 2009, the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork concluded that in children with cancer and blood diseases, massage therapy reduced psychological and physical distress and had a positive effect on quality of life for patients.

In a recent study at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, researchers reported two 20-minute massage sessions a week for adolescents age 7-18 with ADHD provided significant improvement when assessed by their teachers. The kids were more attentive and had better behavior in the classroom. The children themselves rated themselves as happier and more relaxed.

And maybe, at the end of the day, that’s the best result anyone can ask for.

One of the biggest struggles any of us face is how to cope with what life throws our way. Anxiety and stress is a downward spiral that makes any illness or pain worse.

I’d still like to get out of my nightly ritual of “push downs” with my son. But then again, it doesn’t cost me anything, and if gives him some peace and a good night’s sleep, that’s a pretty good prescription.

cwgala@gmail.com

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