Asthma is commonly seen in children, and is the cause of tens of thousands of emergency room and pediatrician visits each year. Western medical practices typically rely on a combination of avoiding allergen triggers and administering powerful medications to keep asthma under control. However, the demand for more natural asthma solutions has revealed massage therapy to be a highly desirable adjunct to conventional approaches.
About Pediatric Asthma
With rates steadily rising, pediatric asthma is extremely prevalent. Based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 10 percent of American children have asthma – with an even greater frequency in kids belonging to a non-Hispanic, black racial/ethnic group.
Asthma is an illness of the respiratory system that causes swelling and narrowing of the airways. During an asthma attack, the muscles surrounding the airways tighten and the airway passage lining swells. This tightening and swelling reduces the amount of air that can be exhaled or inhaled. In children, allergies are a common asthma trigger.
The most common culprits include:
- Animal hair and animal dander
- Dust, pollen and mold
- Chemicals in the environment or in food
- Aspirin and other medications
- Cold air and dramatic weather changes
- Exercise and strong emotions
- Cigarette smoke
- Viral infections of the respiratory system (common cold)
The most common symptoms of asthma are shortness of breath, gasping for air, trouble exhaling, rapid breathing, coughing that interferes with sleep, dark circles under the eyes, fatigue, irritability, chest tightness and wheezing. Asthma’s cause is multi-factorial, but experts believe that family history, obesity, viruses, exposure to tobacco smoke, cockroaches and dust mites increase the likelihood of asthma development.
Parents Giving Massage to Their Kids
Although there are several reasons that massage benefits children with asthma, the most prominent is that it lowers stress levels. According to research from the Touch Institute, parents giving daily Swedish massage to their asthmatic children for one month had children with less anxiety and fewer asthma attacks. In addition, the massage recipients had improved pulmonary function as determined by daily peak airflow readings. The parents in this study gave simple relaxation massages, without addressing any specific issues.
As recently published in a November 2011 edition of the Journal for Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Egyptian researchers came to the same conclusion about massage therapy for pediatric asthma. Conducted in the pediatric allergy and chest unit of the New Children’s Hospital of Cairo University, Egypt, the study involved parents giving their children a 20-minute massage each night for five weeks in addition to the standard asthma treatment. They found that compared to children only receiving the standard treatment, adding massage therapy to the protocol significantly improved pulmonary function.
Besides helping kids who suffer with asthma, teaching parents to give their children a massage also benefits the parents. As published in the summer 2010 edition of the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, researchers acknowledged that the health care of children with chronic asthma can have a deep impact on the health and welfare of the child’s family members.
Because there is a relation between the life quality of children suffering from asthma and the anxiety level of their parents, the Iranian researchers looked at massage therapy as a means to help both asthmatic child and parent. Likely since giving their child daily massage therapy places parents in a position of actively caring for and treating their child, the researchers found this practice to reduce the anxiety level of the massage-giving parents.
With so much focus on learning new healing modalities, it is easy to forget how effective the basics are. Relaxation massage therapy is not to be underestimated, as it can help ease the burden of pediatric asthma – both for the child and the child’s family. Therefore, massage therapists who want to make a difference in the lives of those affected by this common respiratory illness are urged to go the extra mile by teaching adults how to massage their children with asthma.