The Importance of Touch: A Guide for Parental Massage
Cynthia Karlson, B.S., L.M.T.
University of Kansas
Massage therapy has been around for thousands
of years and has recently been used to treat symptoms of
disorders ranging from HIV and cancer to back pain and
depression. Numerous studies show that massage therapy reduces
muscle tension, decreases feelings of anxiety and depression,
and increases positive mood. Thus, massage may be an ideal
intervention for children with scleroderma.
As with many complementary therapies, massage
appears to offer a wide range of benefits to both adults and
children. Massage may be particularly helpful for children who
suffer from chronic pain because massage relaxes tired and sore
muscles and promotes long-term relaxation. Clinical research
suggests that relaxation is one of the most effective
complementary interventions for managing children’s pain. In
fact, thirty five percent of pediatric pain centers that offer
complementary and alternative therapies offer massage therapy to
promote relaxation and help reduce and control chronic pain.
Massage may also have specific benefits for
children with autoimmune illnesses such as scleroderma. In a
recent study of children with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis,
parental massage was found to decrease pain and morning
stiffness, and increase joint mobility. Although it is not known
exactly how massage affects the immune system, it is likely that
massage reduces stress, tension, and anxiety; all of which have
been shown to increase autoimmune disease activity. Because of
these types of benefits, massage therapy may be able to help
children with scleroderma feel better and lead more active
Although regular professional massage can be
quite expensive, massage therapy need not be financially out of
reach for children with scleroderma. Parents can be trained to
give their children massages! Parental massage has repeatedly
been found to be effective for a number of pediatric conditions.
One disease that has skin symptoms similar to those of
scleroderma is dermatitis. Parental massage was found to improve
all measured symptoms of dermatitis in children, including
redness, thickening, scaling, abrasions, and itching. Thus,
massage therapy may offer many benefits to children with
scleroderma and can be easily and effectively performed by
parents for little or no cost. Here are some of the potential
benefits that you can offer your child with parental massage.
Benefits of Massage
Increasing Joint Motion: Massage can help
increase joint mobility by increasing blood flow to the
tendons and muscles that surround the joint. Additionally,
manual manipulation helps to break up adhesions in the
connective tissue and increase tissue dexterity.
Decreasing Pain: Touch and pressure
sensations travel to the brain faster than pain sensation.
So, when an individual receives massage, the pain message is
interrupted and the sensation of pain is reduced.
Decreasing Swelling and Inflammation:
Performing massage using the following technique will push
old blood out of a swollen area and bring new blood in to
the area; thereby decreasing swelling and inflammation.
Technique: Massage the area above the swollen area, next
very lightly massage the swollen area, lastly massage the
area below the swelling. Always stroke upwards towards the
heart to push excess fluid out of the swollen area.
Soften Scar Tissue: Massage can be
performed with skin creams and lotions that contain
ingredients, such as Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), that help
soften the skin.
Decreasing Stress: Massage promotes
relaxation, improves sleep quality and decreases the release
of stress hormones, such as cortisol. All of these
mechanisms help individuals who receive massage to feel less
anxious and to reduce stress.
Another benefit of massage therapy is the
experience of positive touch. Because scleroderma can affect
children’s physical appearance, children with scleroderma may
receive a limited amount of positive touch from peers, teachers,
and other adults. Animal studies and studies with infants show
that positive touch is extremely important in normal growth and
development. In fact, massage has repeatedly been found to
significantly increase premature infants’ growth and ability to
thrive. Massage can also help children with scleroderma view
their bodies in a more positive manner, as a companion rather
than the enemy.
Massaging Your Child
Different kinds of massage can be used to
achieve different goals. In general, 15 to 20 minutes of massage
is recommended for each massage session.
If you want to promote more restful sleep,
massage should be given right before bedtime using slow, soft
strokes. Alternatively, sports massage (quick, brisk stokes) can
be used prior to stretching or physical therapy to help warm up
the muscles and tendons; thereby decreasing the pain associated
with stretching and physical therapy sessions. Massage therapy
can also be used as light anaerobic exercise to help combat the
muscle atrophy that sometimes occurs in scleroderma with the use
of moderately quick and medium depth strokes.
Like any other therapeutic treatment, there
are times that massage is not recommended. You should not
massage your child if he or she has a cold or fever. It is
thought that the increased circulation may speed up the cold
process, making your child feel worse rather than better. Always
avoid massaging directly on the spine, as this can be painful
and cause bruising. Also, avoid any cuts, bruises or open wounds
to prevent further tissue damage.
clasp neck directly above shoulders
and gently stroke upwards
circular strokes on either side of
spine with flats of fingers
circular strokes across base of head
upward strokes along neck
strokes along both sides of the face
flat fingers across the forehead
circular strokes over the temple and
the hinge of the jaw
flat finger strokes over the nose
stroking from shoulders to the hands
squeezing and twisting in a wringing
motion from shoulder to hand
massaging hand and fingers
stroking the arms upwards towards the
stokes from hip to foot
squeezing and twisting in a wringing
motion from hip to foot
massaging foot and toes
stretching the Achilles tendon
stroking the legs upwards toward the
downward strokes along the back
hand-over-hand movements from the
upper back to the hips
hands from side to side across the
back, including the sides
circular motion from head to hips
along, but not touching, the spine
simultaneous strokes over the sides of
the back from the middle to the sides
rubbing and kneading shoulder muscles
rubbing the neck
stroking the length of the back
stroking from head to feet
There are many useful instructional books and
videos on massage therapy for adults, children and infants.
These resources often give step by step instructions on how to
give massage and are usually easy to follow. Such books and
videos can be found at your local bookstore or ordered online.
Listed below are some helpful websites for more information
about massage therapy. As always, consult your child’s physician
before beginning any alternative or complementary therapies for
the symptoms of scleroderma.
American Massage Therapy Association:
National Center for Alternative and
Touch Institute of the University of Miami:
In summary, massage is a safe and effective
complimentary therapy that has been found to help the symptoms
of many childhood diseases. It can increase positive
parent-child interactions, and can be good way to bond with your
child. Give massage a try and see if it works for you!
Please keep in mind, this webpage is for your information only.
Please check with your child's physician for any treatments.
For more information on Juvenile Scleroderma, contact:
Juvenile Scleroderma Network, Inc.
1204 W. 13th Street, San Pedro, CA 90731
Tel: (310)519-9511 (Pacific Time)
Speak to another JSD parent for emotional and logistical support
provided by home-based JSD volunteers. For medical advice, please
contact your child's physician.
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