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Cerebral palsy massage therapy is a complementary treatment that involves massage and manipulation of muscles and connective tissues by a trained therapist. Potential benefits for someone with cerebral palsy include reduced pain, improved motor function, better sleep, improved digestive health, and more.
What Is Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy is an alternative form of therapy treatment. The body’s connective tissues and muscles are massaged and stimulated through direct contact by a massage therapist to promote healing and well-being in 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 the therapist works on. There are numerous types of massage techniques that are utilized. Therapists can use over 180 techniques with their hands, elbows, arms, and more.
How Can Massage Therapy Benefit Children with Cerebral Palsy?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that more research is needed before recommending massage therapy to every child with cerebral palsy. Many doctors recommend massage to relieve symptoms and provide other benefits:
Benefit #1 – Fewer Physical Symptoms
According to a study published by scientists and physicians at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital and Integrative Touch for Kids, massage has physical benefits for children with cerebral palsy, including lessening painful symptoms.
“It is well established that massage increases blood flow to the tissues and that enhanced blood flow encourages the growth of new tissue and healing of wounds,” the study stated.
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
Fine and gross motor functioning improves when muscles are relaxed and less rigid. 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.
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 essential 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 the massage, many parents report that massage therapy helps their children fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Benefit #6- Integumentary System Protection
The integumentary system is the body’s organ system consisting of the skin, exocrine glands, hair, and nails, which act as the body’s first line of defense against outside factors. Children with cerebral palsy often have skin infections and other integumentary system problems because of decreased ability 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 various settings, but before you choose a place for your child, make sure the massage therapist is certified in massage therapy and 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, it’s not advisable in some instances. The following are among the most common reasons a health care provider may warn against massage therapy for your child:
- Muscle 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, 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
Since massage therapy is not yet considered a primary form of treatment for cerebral palsy, your insurance may not cover the expenses. Be sure to check with your insurance provider before enrollment. If your insurance does not cover massage therapy, your primary health care provider may be able to suggest affordable massage center options.
- Survey of the Use of Massage for Children with Cerebral Palsy. (2010, December 16). PubMed Central (PMC). National Institutes of Health.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3088521/
- View of Survey of the Use of Massage for Children with Cerebral Palsy | International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork: Research, Education, & Practice. (n.d.). International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork: Research, Education, & Practice.
Retrieved from: https://www.ijtmb.org/index.php/ijtmb/article/view/47/141
- Massage Therapy Can Help Improve Sleep. (n.d.). American Massage Therapy Association — American Massage Therapy Association | AMTA.
Retrieved from: https://www.amtamassage.org/approved_position_statements/Massage-Therapy-Can-Help-Improve-Sleep.html