Therapeutic Massage as a Treatment for ADHD

It’s back to school time, and this year thousands of students will be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly referred to as ADHD. Over the past two decades, the vast increase in diagonses and the limited range of treatments have made ADHD a controversial subject. It is estimated that 3 to 6 percent of all youth in the U.S. have been diagnosed with varying degrees of ADHD, which is marked by episodes of hyperactivity, impulsiveness and the inability to focus or pay attention for extended periods of time. At present, drug therapy and behavior modification are the standard treatments for ADHD. Drug therapy has become increasingly controversial, first because of the exponential increase in prescriptions written and secondly, because of the drugs’ psychotropic nature (stimulant) and accompanying side effects, including nausea and insomnia. Behavior modification is also used as a treatment for ADHD, involving changes within the classroom and home environments in order to help the child focus. Complex tasks are reduced to a series of smaller tasks, designed to be performed within a youth’s attention span and schedules are introduced to provide structure and organization. Although these treatments have been somewhat effective, they only remain effective for the time that they are being given, and rarely produce long-term results.
A study featured in a 1998 issue of the journal Adolescence explored massage as a possible treatment for ADHD. Researchers pointed to similar studies that found massage therapy to benefit children and adolescents with psychiatric conditions by causing a reduction in anxiety and levels of agitated activity. Post-massage physiological changes included a decrease in the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine and a more systematic sleep schedule. The ADHD study involved 28 adolescents, with half undergoing a 15 minute after school massage for a period of 10 consecutive school days. Adolescents who received massage therapy reported feeling happier and their teachers observed behavioral changes as well. They reported these students as fidgeting less and more focused on their tasks. These results were also shown to remain over the long term. One explanation for these results can be found in similar studies, which have shown that massage can increase the amount of seratonin released by the brain. This could help to explain the findings of the ADHD study, as seratonin has a counteractive effect on high levels of dopamine, which are characteristically found in adolescents with ADHD.
Although further study is needed, it is possible to use massage as a tool to augment the effectiveness of drug therapy and behavior modification, as well as a potential alternative therapy for those who are not responding to or are suffering from unwanted side effects of traditional ADHD treatments.

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