What is Pediatric Massage?

What comes to mind when you think about pediatric massage? 

Is it spa day for kids? Maybe a child receiving deep work between the shoulder blades? Do you picture a relaxing space with a massage table and salt lamp glowing where you undress and lie down?

While these are all scenarios you may have experienced or seen in the media, none of them are quite accurate for pediatric massage.

Pediatric massage is massage therapy that is adapted for children and teenagers. Adaptations are made to take the age and developmental stage into account, include the family in the session planning process, and provide a safe, nurturing, kid-friendly environment. 

There are several differences between a “normal” massage experience you may have had and a pediatric massage session.

1.    Clients stay clothed in pediatric massage sessions.

All the massage I do can be done over clothing. Additionally, a child may not lie still for 30 minutes, which is normal and expected. Staying clothed means we can seamlessly transition from massage to a stretch break to dancing to education and beyond! It’s also more comfortable and appropriate for a child who may not know or understand what massage therapy is to stay clothed.

Older clients, like teenagers, may choose to wear a bathing suit or sports attire during their session. If so, we will also use appropriate draping (covering the client with a sheet and blanket) to ensure they are comfortable.

2.    A parent or caregiver is required to be present.

I require a parent and/or caregiver to be present for the entire session. If the client is 13 or younger (including functioning at a younger age), I require you to stay in the room. I have a comfortable chair and side table in the room, and you are welcome and invited to be involved in the session so that you can learn how to massage your child! For clients 14-17, there is a comfortable waiting area you are welcome to relax in if you prefer to be outside of the room during the session. 

3.    The sessions are shorter.

With the exception being for older teenagers who desire a longer session, I keep pediatric sessions 30 minutes long.  The sessions include up to 30 minutes of hands-on time and may also include dancing, moving, stories, music, parent education, and more!

Sometimes clients may need more time to get comfortable with the idea of receiving massage, or they may want short bursts of massage with breaks in-between. Time not spent massaging is where I incorporate other activities that are beneficial to the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, like movement or dancing, and that will promote a sense of comfort in the space. 

I also will take time to educate the parents and/or caregivers about techniques that can be used at home to massage their child. You may receive a short massage from me (and your child!). It happens more often than you might think. Most kids are curious about massage and want to learn and get involved.

4.    The type and style of massage is different than what you may imagine.

I’m not sure what your past experiences with massage may be, but I can assure you this isn’t spa day for kids, nor will I be elbowing your child in the back!

Pediatric massage uses touch to impact the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. I practice what is known as “deep touch,” which applies full-handed, firm, gentle pressure that will stimulate mechanoreceptors in the skin and fascia that send a signal to the nervous system resulting in increased vagal nerve activity.Increased vagal activity has been associated with lower amounts of cortisol in the body.

In short, specific kinds of touch will tell the nervous system to relax and rest. The vagus nerve is related to parasympathetic, or “rest and digest,” side of the nervous system. This calm side of the nervous system promotes restorative functions of the body, like digestion, sleep, and wound healing. When the nervous system is in this parasympathetic state, research has indicated that stress hormones like cortisol are reduced and others like oxytocin are boosted. Win-win!

Just to reiterate, deep touch is not the same thing as deep tissue. Your child will never receive pressure that is hard, painful, or damaging to their growing bodies in a session with me.

I hope that this has answered some questions you may have! Please check my FAQ section here to see more answers to common questions.

Contact me at 919-228-8663 or sydney@trianglepediatricmassage.com for other questions or for a consultation call to see if pediatric massage will benefit your child!

Diego, M.; Field, T. Moderate pressure massage elicits a parasympathetic nervous system response, 119, 630–638. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00207450802329605

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