Massage for Pediatric Oncology Care

Imagine being a young child, going into the hospital for a bone marrow transplant–a confusing and distressful time. Pediatric patients and their family members may feel anxious, overwhelmed, and helpless. This kind of emotional distress affects the psychosocial well-being of both the patients and the parents, and may even affect the treatment outcomes.

Now imagine yourself as the parent, amidst this kind of uncertainty and anxiety, receiving a simple massage that relaxes and comforts you. And imagine being the parent who can provide this same type of relief to their child.

Clinical trials have shown that simple massage techniques can help ease the patient and also can provide the parent or caregiver with a useful skill to benefit the child. Recipients of massage therapy treatments have been found to experience stress reduction, relaxation, lowered anxiety levels, and reduced pain. Basic massage training may increase parental self-efficacy for managing a young patient’s psychosocial well-being.

According to research studies, 16 to 36 percent of young adult cancer survivors meet criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 22 percent of parents meet similar criteria four months after a child’s diagnosis. The development of PTSD can impact the patient’s immune response, which in turn may affect the treatment outcome. Needless to say, interventions that help prevent or treat these adverse psychosocial effects are important.

The Osher Center conducted a research study to examine the feasibility and effects of providing massage to children who were undergoing bone marrow transplants. The study also taught the parents how to massage their children. The goal of this clinical trial was to see if this intervention would improve symptom management in patients and/or decrease stress and feelings of helplessness in the parents.

The study results were published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine and found that “some efficacy of the massage/acupressure intervention, particularly related to a reduction in days with mucositis, improvements in fatigue, and reduced pain and loss of appetite.”

A second publication noted that “This study suggests that parent- and practitioner-provided massage may reduce suffering associated with bone marrow transplants among pediatric patients and their parent caregivers. According to parent caregivers, massage relieved symptoms associated with the transplants, and promoted sleep, relaxation, and comfort for their child. The data suggest that massage also may enhance the experience of intimacy and connection between children and parents; offer relief from prolonged periods of social isolation, boredom, and anxiety that characterize life for families in the pediatric bone marrow transplant unit; and enable both patients and parents to play a more active role in managing symptoms. As a simultaneously physical and social practice, massage as applied in the context of this study’s hospital setting is a therapy whose effectiveness among children requires family support, practitioner flexibility, coordination with clinical routines, and affinity among those who perform and receive it.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email