Relief from pain and nausea, along with increased relaxation and ease falling asleep, were among the benefits of massage for children undergoing hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT), according to recent research.

The study, “Massage for Children Undergoing Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation: A Qualitative Report,” involved 15 children, ages 5 to 18, with a mean age of around 11 years. The patients were admitted to the hospital to undergo HCT. The amount of time these patients stayed in the hospital ranged from 23 to 110 days, with a median hospital stay of 37 days.

“HCT has resulted in improved survival rates among children with certain cancers, immune deficiency syndromes or bone marrow failure, but it can be an agonizing ordeal for patients and their families,” state the study’s authors. “Indeed, in 1998 bone marrow transplantation was described as the most devastating treatment that the human body could be subject to, [according to an article in The New Yorker].”

This study was designed to gather qualitative data primarily from parents, but also from the massage practitioners, about the effects and perceptions of massage for children undergoing HCT.

The massage therapists involved in this study each had more than 10 years of experience providing Swedish massage and acupressure in a hospital setting. These practitioners provided up to three massage sessions per week to the children during their entire hospital stay.

Each session usually lasted 10 to 30 minutes and consisted of a combination of Swedish and acupressure techniques. According to the study’s authors, variations in pressure, strokes, massaged body areas and acupressure points were based upon each child’s needs and responses.

“Symptom-specific acupressure points were selected according to patient needs and the massage protocol instructions,” report the researchers. “Foot massage (Swedish and acupressure) was routinely given for relaxation.”

In addition to providing massage to the patients, the practitioners also instructed parents, when possible, on how to perform specific massage and acupressure techniques on their children.

After the patients were discharged from the hospital, researchers used open-ended interview questions to gather qualitative data about the massage intervention from both parents and practitioners.

This data revealed that parent and professional massage may reduce the suffering associated with HCT among pediatric patients and their parent caregivers. According to the parents of these patients, massage relieved symptoms of HCT, improving sleep and increasing the relaxation and comfort of the children.

Among the other reported benefits of massage was an increased sense of intimacy between patients and their parents; a decrease in the boredom, anxiety and isolation of the long hospital stay; and a greater sense of empowerment for both children and parents in terms of managing the symptoms of HCT.

“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,” conclude the study’s authors.


Authors: Sara L. Ackerman, E. Anne Lown, Christopher C. Dvorak, Elizabeth A. Dunn, Donald I. Abrams, Biljana N. Horn, Marcia Degelman, Morton J. Cowan and Wolf E. Mehling.

Sources: Departments of General Internal Medicine, University of California, San Francisco; Alcohol Research Group, Emeryville, California; Department of Physiological Nursing, School of Nursing, University of California, San Francisco; Division of Blood and Marrow Transplant, Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco; Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, University of California, San Francisco; Department of Medicine, Hematology and Oncology, University of California, San Francisco; and Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. Originally published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012.