by Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT
Updated April 2016
To a child who has been hospitalized, or diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition, their symptoms are often accompanied by pain, anxiety, loneliness and fear. So it only makes sense that healthcare staff and medical facilities are looking to pediatric massage as treatment for some of these symptoms.
Research has shown that massage therapy can ease both physical symptoms as well as, emotional discomforts associated with pediatric medical conditions. Studies conducted by the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine show that massage can alleviate pain, anxiety and depression in pediatric clients. This healing touch therapy also provides comfort, relaxation, reduction of stress hormones and relief from chronic conditions such as asthma, nausea, constipation and muscle aches.
Immediately after receiving massage, children with mild to moderate juvenile rheumatoid arthritis notice decreased anxiety and stress hormone (cortisol) levels. For young patients with Autism their aversion to touch decreases with massage, while their ability to focus increases. Pediatric patients with cystic fibrosis report feeling less anxious, and their ability to breathe and pulmonary functions improved.
For the massage therapist or healthcare professional considering pediatric massage, there are many considerations to prepare for providing age specific and development appropriate therapy. Further training in pediatric massage is required to feel fully confident working with children within medical institutions.
As you consider pursuing pediatric massage, some initial adaptations in your practice will become helpful. The following five “P’s” are the keys to successful therapeutic massage sessions for both pediatric patient and practitioner.
Permission should always be obtained from the child. Within the confines of hospital walls, it is not always possible for a child to agree to or refuse treatment. Empowering the child to have a voice in their medical care is possible through the use of massage therapy.
Before any touch therapy session with a pediatric patient, you must receive approval from their attending physician to ensure the child’s safety. Never perform massage therapy for a pediatric patient prior to receiving medical consent to do so. Some medical conditions carry contraindications to touch therapy. It is always best to receive medical advisement prior to each and every session, in case of any medical changes.
Keep in mind that therapeutic touch sessions with children are often much shorter than those with adult clients. Even healthy well children have shorter attention spans and tolerance to nurturing touch.
As a therapist performing this type of treatment, you may only provide therapy for 15-20 minutes for younger patients. You may find that with some diagnosis, massage therapy may be recommended more than one time per day.
Pediatric massage is adapted for each individual client on a specific case by case basis. With each child, it is important to build a rapport and trust in your professional relationship. Allow children to know they can direct the amount of pressure used during the massage. And also be prepared for the child to test out the control they have in directing the amount of pressure used during the session. It is important that the child knows they can trust you, and that you will listen to their requests. Once they trust you, they can relax and just feel the many benefits of the massage.
The very experience of having some control over their bodies becomes more important for children who are chronically ill or hospitalized. For these children, their day-to-day existent in the hospital is full of experiences of adults doing things to them, sometimes painful and uncomfortable, without their permission. It is very empowering for a child to have the ability to direct their therapeutic session, and at times even refuse it.
Some chronically ill children are confined to their hospital bed, while others may be in a wheelchair or have the ability to move from their bed with ease. It is important to be able to adapt to a variety of scenarios.
Practice different positions including supported side lying, supine, and semi-reclined. These three positions seem to work very well, as you can keep eye contact and notice any facial gestures your young client may make which would alert you of any discomfort. Of course, it is always possible to provide massage in other positions as well, such as sitting in a wheelchair, standing, or lying in another position that is more comfortable for them. The important key is placing your hands on the child in a way that they feel most comfortable. This will increase the therapeutic and relaxing benefits or your time together.
To many pediatric patients and their families, pediatric massage is often seen as the medicine they need to heal, so it becomes more important to consider including parents in your sessions. You can’t provide therapy for the child everyday, so teaching the parents some techniques will be helpful in encouraging this healthy bond between parent and child. Additionally, many parents feel helpless within the medical system. Passing along something they can use will help them to feel calm and relaxed as well, which will translate to the young client.
At the beginning of the session remind the parent that your focus will be on the child and that you will be happy to discuss the session or answer any questions at the end of the treatment. Show parents some simple techniques to help them relax, such as taking some deep breaths or rolling their shoulders. Explain the importance of relaxing prior to touching their child. Then show them some simple techniques they can use without harming their child.
Massage may be a supportive therapy that can be readily applied, most effectively by specially trained massage therapists or by parents who have learned massage techniques from a skilled, educated massage therapist. Pediatric massage and nurturing touch are the most appropriate massage techniques to use in this population. When using massage therapy for children with cancer, your work does not need to be aggressive to achieve its maximum potential.
For more information visit Comprehensive Pediatric Massage Training Course (CPMT)
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