Massage therapy is an evidence-based treatment for a variety of conditions
By Kristin Martelli, LMT, BCTMB, CPMT
In our current health care climate, massage therapy is quickly taking on an expanded role as a viable and evidence based treatment for a variety of conditions. A growing body of research is showing that massage has favorable outcomes ranging from enhancing the immune function in preterm infants,¹ to decreasing blood pressure and improving stability in older persons.² Of particular interest to our special needs populations, massage has also been found to be helpful in decreasing a variety of symptoms in various disabilities. Many disabilities have similar symptoms such as spastic or rigid muscles, uncoordinated movements, constipation or other digestive issues, loss of balance or even the inability to walk which can contribute to muscle atrophy or soreness.
Almost everyone who gets a massage can attest that they have a decrease in pain and stiffness as well as a general improvement in mood. While the mechanisms of massage are still being debated, it is widely agreed upon that massage can decrease pain, lower stress levels, increase range of motion, and lower inflammation. Other benefits of massage can help with the behavioral symptoms of those with disabilities such as ADHD, ASD, or any other condition that affects mental or intellectual development. For example, in one small study, standardized tests showed a decrease in autistic behaviors and increase in language development, as well as improvement in motor skills, sensory function and general health in all of the children who received a regular massage.³
It is important to find a massage therapist who has had additional training and experience working with our special needs population since there are additional considerations and precautions needed to safely and effectively provide the best care. In addition to an initial “expectation conversation” and a thorough medical history, a well rounded session would include a social and emotional background inquiry and a discussion on informed consent. In cases of working with individuals with disabilities, it is important that the client understands what is happening and has the ability to provide the therapist feedback even if they are non-verbal and/or the guardian gave the initial consent. Many times the guardian can assist in this communication building process but the therapist must always look for and respond to comfort levels of the client directly.
Accessibility is a factor to consider when choosing your massage therapist, especially if the client uses a wheelchair. Some clients prefer to stay in their wheelchairs, while other clients prefer to be transferred to a massage table or hospital bed. While most clinics will have wheelchair accessible entrances and bathrooms, sometimes it is more ideal for the massage therapist to make an out-call visit to a home, facility, or hospital. Discussing these options with a potential massage therapist prior to making an appointment can help provide the best service in the most comfortable environment possible based on the individual need of the client.
Kristin Martelli, LMT, BCTMB, CPMT, is a board certified and licensed massage therapist, certified pediatric massage therapist, energy therapist, and the owner of Green Ridge Om & Wellness in Scranton, PA.
- Ang J, Lua J, Mathur A, et al. A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial of Massage Therapy on the Immune System of Preterm Infants. Pediatrics. 2012; 130(6):e1549-58.
- Sefton JM, Yarar C, Berry JW, et al. Six weeks of massage therapy produces changes in balance, neurological and cardiovascular measures in older persons. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.2012; 5(3):28-40.
- L. M. T. Silva and A. Cignolini, “A medical Qigong methodology for early intervention in autism spectrum disorder: a case series,” The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 315–