Cerebral Palsy Massage Therapy
This article has been fact checked by a Board Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. Sources of information for the article are listed at the bottom.
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Complementary therapy has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, and massage therapy for children with cerebral palsy has proven to offer an array of mental, emotional, and physical benefits. Keep in mind, however, that you should always consult with your primary health care provider before starting a massage therapy program for your child.
What is Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy is an alternative form of therapy treatment in which the body’s connective tissues and muscles are massaged and stimulated through direct contact by a massage therapist in order to promote healing and well-being to the patient.
Massage therapists apply direct pressure with the hands to various parts of the body. The pressure can range from light to heavy, depending on which part of the body is being stimulated. There are numerous types of massage techniques that are utilized. In fact, therapists can use over 180 techniques with their hands, elbows, arms, and more.
How Does Massage Therapy Benefit Children with Cerebral Palsy?
Although the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that more research is needed before recommending massage therapy to every child with cerebral palsy, the American Therapy Massage Association (AMTA) suggests that anyone can benefit from massage.
Benefit #1 – Fewer Physical Symptoms
According to a study published in 2004 by the University of Miami’s School of Medicine and the Easter Seals Society, massage has numerous physical benefits for children with cerebral palsy, including lessening painful symptoms.
In another study carried out by the Easter Seal Society and the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation (UCP) in Miami, children with cerebral palsy of various ages (mean age of a little over 2-years-old) showed improvement of physical symptoms including reduced spacity, reduced hypertonic muscle tone (less rigid muscles), and reduced hand and feet contractures with routine massages by licensed massage therapists.
Benefit #2- Cranial Stimulation Promotes Well-Being
Massage also stimulates the brain’s pressure receptors. Cerebral palsy develops due to a brain injury, and when the cranial area is massaged and stimulated, it helps to promote a sense of calmness. It also helps children have improved focus and concentration.
Benefit #3- Improved Fine and Gross Motor Functioning
When muscles are relaxed and less rigid, fine and gross motor functioning improves. This can help children with cerebral palsy in all aspects of their lives, including playing, socializing, learning, and carrying out daily tasks.
Benefit #4- Increased Circulation and Better Digestive Health
People with cerebral often have circulation and digestion issues. Immobility can lead to circulatory problems, while structural abnormalities in the central and peripheral nervous system can lead to digestion issues.
A study on massage and cerebral palsy published by Nursing Times indicates that regular massages promote changes in color and temperature of paralyzed limbs, as well as increased blood circulation. Better blood circulation results in lowered blood pressure, improved nutrition absorption, increased oxygen intake, and reduced heart rate.
Since massages can relieve tension in the abdominal area, it can lead to improved digestive health by:
- Reducing gassiness and bloating
- Stimulating peristalsis (the muscle contractions that move food), leading to better digestion
- Aiding in the release of digestive enzymes
- Stimulating kidney and liver activity
Benefit #5 Improved Sleep
One of the main reasons parents enroll children with cerebral palsy in massage sessions is to help them sleep better. Many adults with cerebral palsy also enroll in massage sessions for the same reason.
According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), massaging may play an important role in the quality of sleep children with cerebral palsy get. Although more research is needed to determine how many people exhibit long-term, positive sleep patterns after massage, many parents report that they feel massage therapy helps their children to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Benefit #6- Integumentary System Protection
The integumentary system is the body’s organ system that consists of the skin, exocrine glands, hair, and nails, which all act as the body’s first line of defense to outside factors. Children with cerebral palsy often have problems with skin infections and other integumentary system problems because of decreased abilities to care for themselves. Massage can help protect the integumentary system by:
- Stimulating the skin
- Improving skin tone and texture
- Assisting in body temperature regulation
- Promoting tissue repair
- Moisturizing skin
- Removing dead skin
- Stimulating sensory receptors
Where Can my Child Get Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy takes place in a variety of settings, but before you choose a place for your child, make sure the massage therapist is not only certified in massage therapy but also experienced in working with children with cerebral palsy.
The following are common places where massage therapy takes place:
- Physical therapy centers
- Private massage therapy offices
- Chiropractic centers
- Athletic clubs and sports centers
- At home (there are private massage therapists who visit the home)
- Health clinics
Which Children Should Not Get Massage Therapy?
It’s important to talk with your child’s primary health care provider before starting a massage therapy program. Although massage therapy has shown numerous benefits to children with cerebral palsy, in some instances, it’s not advisable. The following are among the most common reasons a health care provider may warn against massage therapy for your child:
- Muscle and/or joint inflammation
- Acute infections
- Skin disorders
- Open sores
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Vaccinations within the past 72 hours
- Blood clots
- Varicose veins
What Massage Therapy Does NOT Provide
The following is a general list of what is not provided during a massage therapy session for your child. If you have any questions, make sure you ask the massage therapist beforehand.
Massage therapists cannot:
- Offer any form of medical advice regarding your child’s disorder or any other medical issue
- Provide any type of psychological counseling
- Provide diet or nutrition counseling
- Touch private parts of the child’s body
- Perform any type of surgery
- Provide skin or cosmetology services
It’s also important to remember that since massage therapy is not yet considered a primary form of treatment for cerebral palsy, your insurance may not cover the expenses. Be certain to check with your insurance provider prior to enrollment. If your insurance does not cover massage therapy, your primary health care provider may be able to suggest affordable massage center options.