Potential Benefits from Massage and Touch Therapy

There are many potential benefits from massage and touch therapy!

What do you think of as reasons to get a massage? Is it for muscle tension, anxiety, a headache that won’t quit, or relaxation? Children and teenagers receive the same benefits from massage therapy, though we often don’t think of them needing massage or finding it useful in the same way.

The reasons for pursuing massage vary from child to child. I work with parents and families, other medical providers and members of the care team, and the client themselves to craft a plan that will address the needs of the client. For example, goals will look very different for a child who is four and navigating life with developmental delays and an adolescent who plays multiple sports. Both clients will receive excellent sessions, but they have very different needs.

Below you will find a list of benefits of massage and touch therapy. There are research citations at the end for continued reading if you are curious to know more. We learn more about how the body works every day, so new research is always coming out about the importance of touch and the dynamic nature of the human body.

·     Improved attention span and on-task behaviors demonstrated in children and adolescents diagnosed with ADHD and Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that received massage. 

·     Improved behavioral symptoms like aggression, anxiety, and hostility in teenagers.

·     Improvement in markers of anxiety and depression shown in children and adolescents diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia, and PTSD. Additionally, adolescents showed more compliance with eating disorder treatment protocols and improved body image.

·     Reduction in stress and anxiety measured in children undergoing hospitalization.

·     Children with chronic constipation showed marked improvements in reduced constipation symptoms, less laxative use, and increased diet intake.

·     Symptoms of acute diarrhea were reduced and studies indicate that massage therapy was more effective than standard pharmacological interventions. 

·     Significant reduction in hypertonicity and spasticity for children with cerebral palsy. 

·     Improvement in muscle tone for children with Down syndrome who received massage.

·     Improvement in gross motor and sensory sensitivity scores for children with motor developmental delays who received massage twice a week for a 12 week period.

·       Reduction in pain, nausea, and sleep disturbances for patients who received massage after hematopoetic cell transportation.

·       Lower anxiety scores and less benzodiazepine exposure for children receiving massage following cardiovascular surgery.

·     Burn victims who received massage therapy had higher pain thresholds, less post-burn pain, less itching, decreased amounts of crying, and increased range of motion.

·     Lower levels of pain, anxiety, and depression have been reported in children with sickle cell disease, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain of unknown etiology.

·     Marked improvement in pulmonary measures for children with asthma and lower cortisol levels.

·     Decreased glucose levels and improved compliance with insulin and food regulation for children with diabetes who received regular massage.

·     Lower anxiety and pain, significantly less post-chemotherapy nausea and vomiting, and increased nighttime sleep have been observed with children and adolescents with cancer.

Research citations are included below.


Field, T.; Lasko, D.; Mundy, P.; Henteleff, T.; Kabot, S.; Talpins, S.; Dowling, M. Brief report: Autistic children’s attentiveness and responsivity improved after touch therapy. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 199727, 333–338.

Escalona, A.; Field, T.; Singer-Strunk, R.; Cullen, C.; Hartshorn, K. Brief report: Improvements in the behavior of children with autism following massage therapy. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 200131, 513–516.

Aggression, Anxiety, Bulimia, Anorexia

Diego, M.A.; Field, T.; Hernandez-Reif, M.; Shaw, J.; Castellanos, D.; Rothe, E. Aggressive adolescents benefit from massage therapy. Adolescence 200237, 597–608.

Field, T.; Morrow, C.; Valdeon, C.; Larson, S.; Kuhn, C.; Schanberg, S. Massage reduces anxiety in child and adolescent psychiatric patients. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry 199231, 125–131.

Jalalodini, A.; Nourian, M.; Saatchi, K.; Kavousi, A.; Ghaljeh, M. The effectiveness of slow-stroke back massage on hospitalization anxiety and physiological parameters in school-age children: A randomized clinical trial study. Iran. Red Cresent Med. J. 201618, e36567.

Hart, T.S.; Field, T.; Hernandez-Reif, M.; Nearing, G.; Shaw, S.; Schanberg, S.; Kuhn, C. Anorexia nervosa symptoms are reduced by massage therapy. Eating Disord.20019, 289–299.

Field, T.; Schanberg, S.; Kuhn, C.; Fierro, K.; Henteleff, T.; Mueller, C.; Yando, R.; Burman, I. Bulimic adolescents benefit from massage therapy. Adolescence 199833, 555–563.

Gastrointestinal Functions

Bromley, D. Abdominal massage in the management of chronic constipation for children with disability. Community Pract. 201487, 25–29.

Gao, L.; Jia, C.; Huang, H. Pediatric massage for treatment of acute diarrhea in children: A meta-analysis. BMC Complement. Altern. Med. 201818, 257.

Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome, Developmental Delays

Rasool, F.; Memon, A.R.; Kiyani, M.M.; Sajjad, A.G. The effect of deep cross friction massage on spasticity of children with cerebral palsy: A double-blind randomized controlled trial. J. Pak. Med. Assoc. 201767, 87–91.

Glew, G.M.; Fan, M.Y.; Hagland, S.; Bjornson, K.; Beider, S.; McLaughlin, J.F. Survey of the use of massage for children with cerebral palsy. Int. J. Ther. Mass. Bodyw.20103, 10–15.

Silva, L.M.; Schalock, M.; Garberg, J.; Smith, C.L. Qigong massage for motor skills in young children with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. Am. J. Occup. Ther. 201266, 348–355. 

Lu, W.P.; Tsai, W.H.; Lin, L.Y.; Hong, R.B.; Hwang, Y.S. The beneficial effects of massage on motor development and sensory processing in young children with developmental delay: A randomized control trial study. Dev. Neuro Rehabil. 201830, 1–9.

Burns, Chronic Pain, Post-hospitalization Pain

Ackerman, S.L.; Lown, E.A.; Dvorak, C.C.; Dunn, E.A.; Abrams, D.I.; Horn, B.N.; Degelman, M.; Cowan, M.J.; Mehling, W.E. Massage for children undergoing hematopoitic cell transplantation: A qualitative report. Evid. Based Compl. Alternat. Med. 20122012, 792042.

Staveski, S.L.; Boulanger, K.; Erman, L.; Lin, L.; Almgren, C.; Journel, C.; Roth, S.J.; Golianu, B. The impact of massage and reading on children’s pain and anxiety after cardiovascular surgery: A pilot study. Pediatr. Crit. Care Med. 201819, 725–732.

Morien, A.; Garrison, D.; Smith, N. Range of motion improves after massage in children with burns: A pilot study. J. Bodyw. Mov. Ther. 200812, 67–71.

Parlak Gurol, A.; Polat, S.; Akcay, M.N. Itching, pain, and anxiety levels are reduced with massage therapy in burned adolescents. J. Burn Care Res. 201031, 429–432.

Lemanek, K.L.; Ranalli, K.L.; Lukens, C. A randomized controlled trial of massage therapy in children with sickle cell disease. J. Pediatr. Psychol. 200934, 1091–1096. 

Field, T.; Hernandez-Reif, M.; Seligman, S.; Krasnegor, J.; Sunshine, W.; Rivas-Chacon, R.; Schanberg, S.; Kuhn, C. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis: Benefits from massage therapy. J. Pediatr. Psychol. 199722, 607–61

Field, T.; Delage, J.; Hernandez-Reif, M. Movement and massage therapy reduce fibromyalgia pain. J. Bodyw. Mov. Ther. 20037, 49–52.

Asthma, Cystic Fibrosis, Diabetes

Field, T.; Henteleff, T.; Hernandez-Reif, M.; Martinez, E.; Mavunda, K.; Kuhn, C.; Schanberg, S. Children with asthma have improved pulmonary function after massage therapy. J. Pediatr. 1998132, 854–858.

Fattah, M.A.; Hamdy, B. Pulmonary functions of children with asthma improve following massage therapy. J. Altern. Complement. Med. 201117, 1065–1068.

Hernandez-Reif, M.; Field, T.; Krasnegor, J.; Martinez, E.; Mavunda, K.; Schwartzman, M. Cystic fibrosis symptoms are reduced with massage therapy intervention. J. Pediatr. Psychol. 199924, 183–189. 

Huth, M.; Zink, K.; VanHorn, N. The effects of massage therapy in improving outcomes for youth with cystic fibrosis: An evidence review. Pediatr. Nurs. 200531, 328–332.]

Field, T.; Hernandez-Reif, M.; LaGreca, A.; Shaw, K.; Schanberg, S.; Kuhn, C. Massage therapy lowers blood glucose levels in children with diabetes. Diabetes Spect. 199710, 237–239.

Sajedi, F.; Kashaninia, Z.; Hoseeinzadeh, S.; Abedinipoor, A. How effective is Swedish massage on blood glucose level in children with diabetes mellitus? Acta Med. Iran. 201149, 592–597.


Field, T.; Cullen, C.; Diego, M.; Hernandez-Reif, M.; Sprinz, P.; Beebe, K.; Kissel, B.; Bango-Sanchez, V. Leukemia immune changes following massage therapy. J. Bodyw. Mov. Ther. 20013, 1–5. 

Post-White, J.; Fitzgerald, M.; Savik, K.; Hooke, M.C.; Hannahan, A.B.; Sencer, S.F. Massage therapy for children with cancer. J. Pediatr. Oncol. Nurs. 200926, 16–28. 

Haun, J.N.; Graham-Pole, J.; Shortley, B. Children with cancer and blood diseases experience positive physical and psychological effects from massage therapy. Int. J. Ther. Massage Bodyw. 20092, 7–14.

Batalha, L.M.; Mota, A.A. Massage in children with cancer: Effectiveness of a protocol. J. Pediatr. 201389, 595–600.

Celebioglu, A.; Gurol, A.; Yildirim, Z.K.; Buyukavci, M. Effects of massage therapy on pain and anxiety arising from intrathecal therapy or bone marrow aspiration in children with cancer. Int. J. Nurs. Pract. 201521, 797–804. 

Mazlum, S.; Chaharsoughi, N.T.; Banihashem, A.; Vashani, H.B. The effect of massage therapy on chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in pediatric children. Iran J. Nurs. Midwifery Res. 201318, 280–284.

Jacobs, S.; Mowbray, C.; Cates, L.M.; Baylor, A.; Gable, C.; Skora, E.; Estrada, M.; Cheng, Y.; Wang, J.; Lewin, D.; et al. Pilot study of massage to improve sleep and fatigue in hospitalized adolescents with cancer. Pediatr. Blood Cancer 201663, 880–886.

Rodriguez-Mansilla, J.; Gonzalez-Sanchez, B.; Torres-Piles, S.; Martin, J.G.; Jimenez-Palomares, M.; Bellino, M.N. Effects of the application of therapeutic massage in children with cancer: A systematic review. Rev. Lat. Am. Enferm. 201725, e2903.

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