A study conducted at the University of Miami School of Medicine indicates that massage therapy may enhance motor functioning and increase muscle tone in children with Down syndrome.

“Children with Down syndrome improved in motor functioning and muscle tone following massage therapy” was conducted to determine whether: massage improved muscle tone; the subjects experienced improved motor development; and improved muscle tone and motor development would be associated with enhanced development in other areas.

Twenty-one preschool-age children (mean age, two years) with Down syndrome participated in the study. Participants were randomly assigned to either a treatment group, which received two half-hour massage-therapy sessions per week for two months, in addition to other therapies; or a control group, which received two half-hour reading sessions per week for two months, in addition to  other therapies. Both groups’ participants also received early intervention consisting of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.

Massage treatments were provided by licensed massage therapists, who conducted each session in a quiet, private area of a preschool center on the campus of the University of Miami School of Medicine. The control group’s sessions were also conducted by massage therapists, who read Dr. Seuss books to the children in the same setting.
Treatment consisted of a 30-minute massage session with the child lying on a small mat on the floor. A massage sequence was repeated three times on the following areas of the body: legs and feet; stomach; chest; arms and hands; face; and back.

The following functioning levels were assessed at the beginning and the end of the study, using the Developmental Programming for Infants and Young Children scale: motor, self-care, social/emotional, language and cognition. Muscle tone was assessed using a new preliminary scale, the Arms, Legs and Trunk Muscle Tone Score.

Both groups showed improvement in all developmental areas at the end of the study period; however, the massage therapy group revealed greater gains in fine and gross motor functioning and less severe limb hypotonicity than did the control group. The authors conclude that this study’s results are “encouraging and suggest that, when added to an Early Intervention program, massage therapy may enhance motor functioning and limb muscle tone for young children with Down syndrome.”

Source: University of Miami School of Medicine; Easter Seal Society of Miami. Authors: Maria Hernandez-Reif, Tiffany Field, Shay Largie, Dana Mora, Joan Bornstein, Ronnie Waldman. Originally published in Early Child Development and Care, Vol. 176, Nos. 3-4, May 2006, pp. 395-410.