The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted the health care industry, changing how care is delivered and received across the globe. One area significantly affected is hospital-based pediatric massage, a therapy that has long been used to help alleviate pain, anxiety and stress in young patients. As hospitals have adapted to the challenges of the pandemic, so too has the practice of pediatric massage.
Significant Impacts to Pediatric Massage
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced hospitals to implement new safety protocols to protect patients and health care providers. These changes have had a significant impact on hospital-based pediatric massage.
• Reduced availability. Due to social distancing measures, many hospitals have reduced the number of therapists available to provide pediatric massage. In some cases, hospitals have temporarily suspended the hands-on touch therapy practice altogether to minimize contact between patients and staff instead, opting for more self-care and educational components.
• Increased safety precautions. Pediatric massage therapists who worked throughout the pandemic were taught to follow new strict safety protocols, such as wearing additional personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gloves and gowns, and proper hand hygiene protocols. In some hospitals, massage therapy was only provided to patients who had tested negative for COVID-19 or were vaccinated.
• Virtual massage. To mitigate the reduction in the availability of in-person therapy, some hospitals have turned to virtual pediatric massage. Technology has played a crucial role in infection control for pediatric massage therapists during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many therapists have utilized telehealth services to provide virtual massage therapy sessions to patients, minimizing the need for in-person contact. This involves providing guided self care techniques and parent-administered touch therapy through video conferencing tools like Zoom or FaceTime.
Although virtual massage may not be our first choice concerning our perceived effectiveness, it benefits patients with decreased anxiety, improved relaxation and stress reduction.
The Importance of Pediatric Massage
Touch is critical to human development and essential to emotional regulation, stress reduction and well-being. The lack of touch during the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted children’s mental and emotional health.
• Increased stress and anxiety. Children deprived of touch may experience increased levels of stress and anxiety, which can lead to a range of physical and emotional symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping, irritability and difficulty concentrating. Touch has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety.
• Impaired emotional development. Touch is crucial in emotional development, helping children develop emotional regulation skills and form healthy attachments. Lack of touch during the pandemic can impair emotional development, leading to emotional dysregulation and difficulty forming healthy relationships.
• Depression. Touch deprivation can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, increasing the risk of depression. Studies have shown that touch stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes feelings of well-being and social bonding.
• Sleep disturbances. Lack of touch can also lead to sleep disturbances, as touch has been shown to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. During the pandemic, children deprived of physical contact may have experienced difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, leading to various physical and emotional health issues.
• Behavioral issues. Children deprived of touch may also exhibit behavioral issues, such as aggression, hyperactivity and difficulty regulating emotions. Touch therapy has been shown to help regulate emotions and promote self-soothing behaviors, reducing the risk of behavioral issues.
Benefits of Pediatric Massage Therapy in the Hospital
Pediatric massage is a specialized therapy that involves gentle, non-invasive touch techniques to promote healing and relaxation in children. It is often used as complementary therapy alongside other treatments, such as medication or physical therapy.
The benefits of pediatric massage include reducing pain, decreasing anxiety, improving sleep and promoting overall wellness. In hospitals, pediatric massage benefits children undergoing treatment for serious illnesses, such as cancer, or recovering from surgeries.
Another vital benefit of pediatric massage is pain relief. Many pediatric patients experience pain during hospital stays, whether from their underlying condition, medical procedures, or other factors. Massage therapy has been shown to help reduce pain and improve overall pain management in pediatric patients. This can help patients feel more comfortable during their hospital stay and improve their overall recovery outcomes.
Pediatric massage has also been shown to improve sleep quality in pediatric patients. Many hospitalized children experience disrupted sleep patterns, negatively impacting their overall health and well-being, and when they feel more rested, they are often better able to cope with their medical conditions.
Massage therapy can also help improve patients’ range of motion and overall physical functioning. This is particularly important for pediatric patients recovering from surgeries or injuries. Massage therapy can help improve circulation, reduce muscle tension and increase flexibility, contributing to better overall physical functioning and recovery.
Overall, hospital-based pediatric massage has undergone significant changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Education and training have been essential for ensuring pediatric massage therapists are aware of increased infection control and new guidelines. Hospitals have provided regular training sessions to ensure therapists are up-to-date on the latest policies and protocols and the ongoing changes throughout the pandemic.
However, the benefits of massage therapy for pediatric patients remain clear. Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, hospitals have continued to offer massage therapy to their pediatric patients, adapting to new safety protocols and utilizing virtual services to provide care to those who cannot receive in-person treatment. As the pandemic continues to evolve, hospital-based pediatric massage will likely continue to play an essential role in the care and recovery of pediatric patients.
The Future of Pediatric Massage in Hospitals
Although the pandemic has presented many challenges for hospital-based pediatric massage, the practice remains an essential therapy for many young patients. As the pandemic begins to subside, hospital-based pediatric massage will likely return to its pre-pandemic state. However, some changes may remain, such as increased safety precautions, to ensure the continued safety of patients and health care providers.
In addition to these changes, there is a growing recognition of the importance of integrative therapies, such as pediatric massage, in promoting overall wellness in children. As a result, there is a growing demand for more trained pediatric massage therapists who can provide safe, effective therapy to young patients making their hospital stays much more comfortable.
About the Author
Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT, is the founder and director of the Liddle Kidz Foundation. Allen began her journey in the field of pediatric touch therapy over 20 years ago. More than 100 medical institutions worldwide have chosen the Liddle Kidz framework to shape and develop strategies for their pediatric touch therapy initiatives.