Massage therapy improves mood and behavior of students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
Adolescence, Winter, 2003 by Sonya Khilnani, Tiffany Field, Maria Hernandez-Reif, Saul Schanberg
The underlying mechanism by which massage therapy decreases hyperactivity and increases attentiveness is not clear, although physiological and biochemical data from the Field et al. studies suggest some possibilities, including that brain waves are altered in the direction of heightened alertness (see Field et al., 1996). In addition, increased vagal tone (and thus increased parasympathetic activity) has been noted during massage therapy, and this increase is often associated with enhanced attentiveness and a more relaxed state (Porges, 1991). Massage therapy may enhance vagal control of the heart by improving a deficient physiological inhibitory system. This, in turn, might help hyperactive or learning disordered children to mediate and inhibit spontaneous activity and thereby increase their level of attentiveness. Those with each subtype of ADHD are expected to benefit from massage therapy given that the attentional deficit is considered the primary symptom underlying hyperactivity-impulsivity (Dykman, Ackerman, Clements, & Peters, 1971). The restlessness is assumed to be secondary and reflective of diffuse patterns of sensory discharge in the brain (activating motor areas).
In the present investigation, massage therapy was selected as an additional treatment for those receiving ongoing intervention, because prior studies found that it exceeded the effects of relaxation therapy and other stress management treatments used in various clinical samples, including youths with ADHD (Field et al., 1992, 1998). Previous massage studies also reported increases in vagal tone during massage therapy (Field, 1995). It would follow that massage therapy might improve attention in those with ADHD by promoting vagal control of heart rate.