Massage & Children
Here are some of the ways that massage can enhance a child’s life:
1. Massage helps children cope with stress by reducing muscle tension and providing nurturing touch. It also provides them with a model of a healthy way to cope with stress.
2. Massage provides perceptual feedback that can help children form a strong and positive body image.
3. Massage can comfort children when they are sick, injured, or under stress.
4. Massage can help children’s injuries to heal faster and with better results. Children can have a multitude of injures, from birth injuries, bruises and cuts, to joint sprains, broken bones and head injuries. Poor healing can result in excess scar tissue, active triggerpoints, myofascial restriction, postural problems, chronic muscle tension and musculoskeletal pain. For example, at 8 years of age, massage therapist Genie Martin fell 20 feet out of a tree, striking branches on the way down and hitting her head hard enough to be knocked unconscious. Although Martin suffered only soft-tissue damage, she stopped breathing and lost consciousness, and had to be given artificial respiration. As she tells it, ‘My life was given back to me, though I was not aware of it for many hours. And when I did become aware of it, I no longer wanted it... Pain kept me awake at night-made my head ache with every move-burned my chest with fire, so much that I squeezed my arms tightly around to smother the flame’. For decades afterwards, until she began receiving massage therapy, Martin carried a great deal of tension in her chest. She had chest pain when she was anxious and many negative emotions were carried in her chest, including a fear of falling, a fear of trying new things, and a fear of recurring pain. As an adult, Martin slept with her arms so tightly gripped over her chest that sometimes when she awoke they were numb. (from Martin, G., “Trauma and Recall in Massage: A Personal Experience”, Massage Therapy Journal, Winter1985, pages 35-38).
5. Massage can help children heal from physical abuse or touch deprivation.According to a woman who was interviewed for Pediatric Massage Therapy, “ My siblings and I were beaten for various transgressions: refusing to eat the lima beans in our soup, failing to clean our rooms, scrub our hands, or maintain silence at church… It wasn’t until I studied domestic violence in a college sociology class that I realized what I’d endured fit the definition of child abuse. Suddenly a lot of things began to make sense, from my bouts of depression and low self-esteem, to my discomfort with touch, to my relationships with men… I found a skilled massage therapist who is guided by a strong sense of intuition. At first, I just endured my massages silently, checking out by occupying my mind with things I had to do, worries, and so on. But slowly and gently, she started to challenge me, asking me, “How does this feel?” as she worked on different areas. That forced me to stay present and, in time, taught me to honor my body in other ways and circumstances. It was a long process, of course, but I knew I was on the right track when one day I was caught in a summer storm and I felt the raindrops pitter-pattering on my bare skin. The gentle, loving touch of rain was new, something that I had never experienced before.” (Anonymous, quoted in Pediatric Massage Therapy by Marybetts Sinclair). What a shame that this woman had to suffer for many years until she received massage therapy, rather than experiencing it as a child!
6. Massage can help children with special needs with many of their common problems, from social isolation, understimulation and poor body image, to musculoskeletal issues such as poor local circulation, contractures, and chronic muscle tightness.
Marybetts Sinclair also offers a class on injury prevention for massage therapists. This course grew out of her research for the book Modern Hydrotherapy for the Massage Therapist, and out of her own 30-plus years as a working massage therapist. Sinclair has seen far too many massage therapists suffer from repetitive stress injuries, then either continue to work in pain or quit the profession altogether.
In many cases, these injuries could have been prevented through: (1) Using proper work habits, (2) Keeping the upper extremities strong, limber, and free of excess tension, and (3) Restorative hydrotherapy treatments. To stay in the game over a long period of time, a long-distance runner may need to lift weights, receive massage therapy, and stretch on a regular basis. Then, when her back, legs or feet are sore or tired after running, she may need to stretch her lower extremity muscles, perform self- massage, or use a restorative hydrotherapy treatments such as ice packs, an Epsom salts foot bath or a contrast leg bath. To stay in the massage game over a long period of time, the massage therapist – an athlete in his or her own right – is no different.