An increasing number of pediatric health care practitioners are incorporating massage to compliment treatment as well as to provide comfort to ill children. The Touch Research Institute has studied the role that pediatric massage can play in the improvement of serious illness symptoms and the results have shown that massage can play a significant role in the healing process.
Seriously ill children are often hospitalized for extended periods of time and must endure testing and procedures that can be unpleasant and frightening to a young child. Touch is a basic human need and massage therapy can immediately provide comfort and reassurance to a child, reducing anxiety and providing emotional support. A gentle massage performed prior to a procedure can lessen a child’s fear and help them to comply with directions given by doctors and staff.
Pediatric massage also aids in pain reduction by stimulating the release of endorphins. This can help a child to better tolerate treatment and to become more aware of their body, encouraging a positive visualization of how the treatment is working. Sleeping soundly in a hospital environment can be a challenge and sick children commonly suffer from insomnia, which deprives them of much needed rest. A massage reduces stress and combats the release of stress hormones, which can improve sleeping patterns.
Massage is beneficial to the immune system’s function. Therapeutic massage improves lymphatic drainage, which promotes removal of toxins from the body. This supports the healing process and can help to strengthen a child’s immune response.
Treatments for serious illnesses such as cancer can cause a severe loss of appetite, which results in weight loss and weakness. Pediatric massage stimulates circulation, which allows for improved nourishment of tissues, as well as stimulating nerves that encourage food absorption, resulting in weight gain.
A child that is confined to bed for weeks at a time can suffer from muscle atrophy. Pediatric massage improves muscle tone and coordination, helping to retain strength and agility. Massage also encourages neurological and motor development, which can help stimulate a child’s cognitive and creative skills in the midst of a monotonous hospital setting.
Perhaps one of the most important benefits that pediatric massage can impart to a sick child is the power of choice. Children who are suffering from serious or chronic illness rarely have a say in what treatment they will receive. They must go through mandatory treatments that may not be explained in a way that is easily understandable. A pediatric massage therapist asks permission from the child before performing a massage and allows them to choose where they would like to be touched, or to refuse the massage altogether. This empowers the child to make decisions about their body and to have those wishes respected.