Researchers recently found that five months of providing a form of qigong massage called Qigong Sensory Training resulted in significant and lasting improvements in motor skills among young children with either cerebral palsy or Down syndrome.
The study, “Qigong Massage for Motor Skills in Young Children with CP and Down Syndrome,” involved 28 children younger than age 4 with developmental delays and motor-tone abnormalities, due either to cerebral palsy or Down syndrome. Fourteen of the children had high motor tone as a result of cerebral palsy, and the other 14 had low motor tone as a result of Down syndrome.
Subjects in the study were randomly assigned to either group A or group B. Those in group A received the qigong massage intervention for five months, and those in group B served as a control group. After the first five-month intervention, the children in group B then received five months of the qigong massage as well.
For the qigong massage intervention, a professional practitioner provided one session to each child per week for a total of five months. In addition, parents were trained to provide a 15-minute session of qigong massage for their child every day during the five-month study period.
The massage protocol consisted of a sequence of 12 patting, pressing and gentle shaking movements, based on Chinese medical theory. According to the researchers, these techniques focused mainly on improving circulation to the muscles, using gentle pressure applied in the direction of arterial circulation rather than lymphatic return.
“Chinese medical theory postulates that children with high or low muscular tone will have decreased circulation to the affected muscles,” state the study’s authors.
One of the outcome measures in this study was the sensory responses of the children, as measured by the Sense and Self-Regulation Checklist. Sleep, self-soothing and the regulation of emotions and behavior in response to parental cues are among the items this checklist addresses.
The other outcome measure in this study was the motor skills of the children, as measured by the Peabody Gross Motor Scale. Researchers used this scale to assess the children’s motor skills in three domains: stationary, locomotion and object manipulation.
The first domain tests the child’s ability to sustain control of his or her body and maintain balance. The second assesses the child’s ability to move from one place to another with movements like walking, crawling and hopping. The third evaluates the child’s ability to manipulate balls with such actions as catching, throwing and kicking.
These outcome measures were assessed for each child before and after the five-month intervention, as well as before and after the five-month waiting period. A follow-up assessment occurred 10 months after the intervention period ended.
Outcome measures at the end of the five-month qigong intervention showed statistically significant improvements in the locomotion and object-manipulation domains among the children who received the qigong treatment, whereas children in the wait-list control group showed no such changes.
More specifically, the children with Down syndrome who received the qigong intervention showed statistically significant improvements in the sensory impairment and locomotion domains, whereas the children with cerebral palsy who received the qigong intervention showed statistically significant improvements in all three motor domains.
When the outcome measures were assessed again 10 months after the intervention period, researchers found that the improvements in locomotion and object manipulation were maintained.
“An unanticipated consequence of this study was that shortly after beginning treatment, we observed an unexpected jump in the language skills of the children with [Down syndrome], much as we have reported previously in our work with children with autism,” state the study’s authors. “This consequence was not captured in the outcomes data because speech and language testing was not part of the study design … A larger study with a cohort of children with [Down syndrome] is under way.”
In conclusion, this study determined that a home program of daily qigong massage resulted in promising improvement of motor skills in young children with motor delays.
Authors: Louisa M. T. Silva, Mark Schalock, Jodi Garberg and Cynthia Lammers Smith.
Sources: Teaching Research Institute, Western Oregon University, and Physical and Occupation Therapy Department, Umatilla-Morrow Education Service District, Pendleton, Oregon. Originally published in the May/June 2012 issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66(3), 1-8.