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Pediatric Massage

By Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT

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The Difference Between Adult and Pediatric Massage

Many practitioners believe the major difference in providing massage and touch therapy to children is to simply consider that the client is smaller in size, pressure should be lighter and to ask their parents. These are real considerations, but not the only differences in providing massage therapy for children and adult clients.

Massage for Adults

As healthcare professionals, we should always consider each individual client's unique needs and indications for massage therapy, rather than providing a standardized protocol for care. Under the scope of professional massage therapy, therapists working with adults have the ability to employ a variety of techniques ranging from relaxation massage and spa therapies, to structural integration. Therapists may apply more pressure based on client preference, and range of motion may involve larger movement than we would utilize with children.

Typical adults have more developed muscular and soft tissues compared to pediatric clients, and they can tolerate a massage session that incorporates various techniques that are not safe for children. Adults have often spent years developing their individual postures, body mechanics and areas of holding stress-related tension. This can make our therapeutic work take on the more sessions to have similar benefit to what we might see with pediatric clients in fewer sessions.

With adults, verbal communication is different and allows us to have a thorough discussion about their personal interest in seeking touch therapy. The client can help to explain their healthcare related needs, stress management techniques they use at home and may have a better understanding on how to follow any at-home protocol which may assist in their preventive health plan.

pediatric massage - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Pediatric Massage

Healthcare providers often use the term pediatric to describe children in a healthcare or hospital setting and some will say that word pediatric is an umbrella term that covers all of the patients in that facility from birth to age of discharge from the hospital (often 18 years of age). While others recognize that pediatric is simply defined as the health care of children, which may mean in the hospital setting, but can also refer to children who are developing typically.

Children have different physical, emotional and developmental needs than adults and pediatric massage is designed to address these individual childhood considerations. Some practitioners believe that massage is used to treat medical and healthcare indications, but pediatric massage is also used in conjunction with general healthcare, as an adjunct and preventative method of therapeutic intervention.

For children, we adapt all of our care to be an individual and unique approach. Children are undergoing significant growth, development and physical changes. A child's skin is thinner, more fragile and has more compact sensory receptors. Their bones are not yet fused or ossified and require a more gentle approach. These considerations are important to those practicing hands-on techniques.

Not only do we consider a child's size in our treatment plan, but also employ developmental considerations and age-appropriate language adaptations, as we build trust and rapport. As with every client, we use informed consent and specifically for children, we use a structured permission process. We may use language that may seem elementary to adult clients, but helps us to best connect with those still developing a comprehensive vocabulary.

Some healthcare providers only think of pediatric massage being applied as a modality for children with special healthcare needs. There are specific healthcare-related situations where pediatric massage therapy will be a wonderful part of a therapeutic treatment plan. However, just as adults receive massage therapy for general health and wellness, so do children. Yes, we can use pediatric massage as indicated to treat a variety of healthcare considerations, but dealing with anxiety, stress and insomnia are also concerns for our younger clients.

Considerations for All Clients

Obtaining informed consent and permission prior to beginning a massage session establishes respect and an understanding of the benefits of healthy touch. With children, this may require input from a parent/guardian or other healthcare provider responsible for their medical care.

Adapting techniques to a client's healthcare needs and preferences establishes trust and communication. We must always communicate adaptations and possibilities with the type of therapeutic session we can provide. Many clients do not have a good understanding of the range of modalities and techniques under a massage therapist's scope of practice. When you take the time to explain options and choices to your client, you help to establish the foundation of a successful treatment session. Professional communication is an important consideration with clients of any age.

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