Aggressive adolescents who received massage therapy had lower anxiety, reported feeling less hostile, and were perceived by their parents as less aggressive, according to a recent study.
“Aggressive Adolescents Benefit From Massage Therapy” was conducted by Miguel Diego, Tiffany Field, Ph.D., Maria Hernandez-Reif, Ph.D., Jon Shaw, Eugenio Rothe, Daniel Castellanos and Linda Mesner.
Seventeen adolescents, ages 9 to 14, were recruited from a child and adolescent psychiatry outpatient clinic for the study. Aggression type (affective aggressive, predatory aggressive or mixed) was determined using the 10-item Aggression Questionnaire. Affective aggression is reactive, and is characterized by high levels of arousal and poor behavior control. Predatory aggression is goal-oriented, and is characterized by low arousal and planned behavior.
Subjects were stratified by age and aggression type and randomly assigned to either a massage-therapy group or a progressive muscle-relaxation group.
Participants in the massage-therapy group received two 20-minute chair massages per week for five weeks. The massage therapist, different each session, gave a standard massage with the adolescent fully clothed.
Participants in the relaxation-therapy group were instructed to tense and relax each of the major muscle groups in the back, arms, face and neck during 20-minute sessions that occurred twice a week for five weeks.
Assessments were made using the Overt Aggression Scale, completed by the parents to evaluate overall aggressive behavior; the Child Behavior Checklist, completed by the parents to measure behaviors associated with aggression and hostility; the hostility portion of the SCL-90R, a questionnaire completed by the subjects to assess distress experienced in the past week; and the State Anxiety Inventory for Children, designed to measure levels of anxiety.
Only the massage-therapy group showed a significant decrease in aggression on the Overt Aggression Scale, as well as a significant decrease in aggression scores on the Child Behavior Checklist. Again, it was the massage-therapy group alone that showed a significant decrease in hostility on the SCL-90R and a significant decrease in anxiety on the State Anxiety Inventory for Children.
“Anxiety has been associated with aggressive behavior and may influence the expression and modulation of aggressive behavior through its effects on social interactions,” state the study’s authors. “Participants receiving massage therapy reported feeling significantly less anxious after a 20-minute session on both the first and last days of treatment, but participants receiving progressive muscle relaxation did not.”
The authors recommend a larger study to explore the effects of massage on the specific types of aggression.
Source: Touch Research Institute. Authors: Miguel Diego, Tiffany Field, Ph.D., Maria Hernandez-Reif, Ph.D., Jon Shaw, Eugenio Rothe, Daniel Castellanos and Linda Mesner. Originally published in ADOLESCENCE, Vol. 37, No. 147, fall 2002, pp. 598-607.