If you’ve ever visited a high-end spa for a massage, chances are you didn’t see any children there. Each spa has its own guidelines when it comes to children and teens. Some ban anyone under 18 (or maybe 16) to keep the environment adult-oriented; others will take in youngsters with written consent from a caregiver or healthcare provider.
Beyond whether or not it’s allowed, you may be wondering if massage for children is even safe. And if so, what’s the best age for a massage? What benefits can they expect?
Keep reading to understand the advantages of massage therapy for kids, what precautions should be taken, and other ways to allow your child to experience massage without a spa visit.
According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), massage has numerous health benefits for children. This includes increased circulation, less stress, and even better digestion. For very young children, massage is even said to promote gross motor development. Learn more about the benefits of massage for kids.
Research shows that massage therapy improves circulation throughout the body. Not only does this help relieve soreness, which can be helpful for athletic children, but improved circulation has far-reaching health benefits. It can enhance brain function, support the immune system, and protect against muscle cramps associated with growing pains.
While childhood worries might seem minuscule in comparison to those of adults, stress and anxiety are becoming increasingly common for children. In fact, some studies indicate that anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Massage therapy is proven to lower anxiety and stress hormones in both infants and children. This can be helpful for children with illnesses, learning disorders, attention disorders, or those simply dealing with temporary academic or emotional anxiety.
If your child is suffering from constipation or an upset stomach, some doctors suggest trying a gentle belly massage to stimulate abdominal muscle contractions. Studies have found that not only does this type of massage help relieve constipation and discomfort, but it can also reduce the need for laxatives.
There is some evidence that massage therapy can help enhance motor and sensory processing in children with developmental delays. Other research has shown that massage therapy can also benefit the motor skills of normally developing children while increasing their body length and weight. This is thought to be due to increased circulation, longer sleep duration, and better absorption of food due to improved digestion.
Massage therapy can strengthen your child’s immunity in a few key ways. For one, studies show it increases the number of lymphocytes in the body, which help fight off infection. Massage can also enhance immunity by improving sleep and lowering the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to wreck the immune system. Even more, there’s evidence that massage therapy may even improve lung function in asthmatic children by reducing inflammatory prostaglandins.
Interestingly, some research shows that massage therapy may even support your child’s learning process. One review found that massage therapy helped to increase concentration and IQ in pupils, likely due to the therapeutic effects of improved circulation, reduced stress, and more restful sleep.
If you’re thinking of taking your child to a spa for a professional massage, it’s worth calling ahead to see what their age policies are. You should also have a talk with your child about what to expect if they have never had a massage before.
But if you’re treating your child to an in-home massage, the experience can be beneficial at any age, including infanthood, as long as you use gentle pressure. Keep in mind there is some research that has found abdominal massage to be unsafe for newborns, so always ask your child’s doctor first before massaging very young children, especially if they have a pre-existing health condition. Some massage professionals suggest that massage therapy is especially useful for children between the ages of 8 to 16 when growth spurts lead to increased muscle tension and pain.
As mentioned above, if you’re unsure whether or not massage is safe for your child or they have a pre-existing health condition, you should always consult with their doctor first before administering a massage. This is especially true if you’re considering giving an abdominal massage to an infant or newborn.
Some experts have explained that because children’s bones are not yet completely fused or ossified, a more gentle approach is required to avoid injury. They’ve also pointed out that a child’s skin is “thinner, more fragile and has much more compact sensory receptors,” which should be taken into consideration when applying pressure or heat.
Other safety precautions to consider:
The most convenient way for your child to experience a massage is to offer one at home. While parents and caregivers may want to massage their infants and toddlers, which has been shown to increase bonding on top of the already established health benefits, your older child may prefer a massage chair or massage bed.
The CERAGEM V6 is a massage thermal bed that is ideal for children due to its scanning technology that adjusts to each user’s spinal length and curvature to provide a customized massage. Cleared by the FDA as a Class II medical device, this massage bed offers 22 different massage modes and three adjustable speed settings to ensure the right pressure for your child. It also offers thermal therapy up to 149°F to mimic a hot stone massage, but each user can select the most suitable temperature for their own needs or no heat at all. Even more, the massage bed is equipped with air cell massagers to deliver a compression massage to the legs, which can be extremely useful when dealing with growth spurts. Please note that infants, younger children, and children with health conditions should never be left unattended on the CERAGEM V6. Always consult your doctor if you’re unsure about using this device.
And should you want to follow up your child’s massage session with your own session, simply lie down and the bed will automatically adjust to accommodate you.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist specializing in health and wellness. She has written for TIME, Health, Glamour, Parents, Women’s Health, VICE, and the Telegraph.
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – Massage
Science Daily – Massage therapy improves circulation, relieves muscle soreness
National Library of Medicine – Anxiety in Children
Journal of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics – Massage Therapy for Infants and Children
Children’s Minnesota – Abdominal Massage
Massage Today – Using Massage to Address Pediatric Digestive Issues
National Library of Medicine – Development and Sensory Processing in Young Children with Developmental Delay: A Randomized Control Trial Study
National Library of Medicine – Effect of whole-body massage on growth and neurodevelopment in term healthy newborns: A systematic review
National Library of Medicine – A Preliminary Study of the Effects of Repeated Massage on Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal and Immune Function in Healthy Individuals: A Study of Mechanisms of Action and Dosage
National Library of Medicine – Massage Therapy in Children with Asthma: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
National Library of Medicine – The Effect of Massage Therapy on Children’s Learning Process: A Review
National Library of Medicine – Adverse events associated with paediatric massage therapy: a systematic review
Physio.co.uk – Massage in Children
Is massage for children safe? Find out the benefits of pediatric massage and what precautions you should take to ensure a safe and healthy experience.Massage Magazine – Why Pediatric Massage Requires a Unique Approach