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ADHD Natural Treatment: Massage Therapy

Massage is used to soothe many chronic musculoskeletal conditions, ease neurological problems like depression, and support overall well-being.  Why shouldn’t massage be able to help individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? 

There is some scientific evidence that shows how massages can be a great natural resource for people with ADHD. So, how does massage work? Our nervous system can be divided into two parts: the autonomic nervous system and the somatic nervous system.   The somatic nervous system controls muscles. The autonomic nervous system controls all involuntary functions like heart rate, secretion of chemicals, and dilation of blood vessels.  The autonomic nerve system is itself made up of two parts. The first, called the sympathetic nervous system, is responsible for the fight or flight response when we are under stress. It is the gas pedal of the body. The second part, the parasympathetic nervous system, is the brake of the body, responsible for relaxation.  Several studies have shown that people with ADHD are in a chronic state of sympathetic nervous system activation.

A preliminary study by the Touch Research Institute in Florida shows that massage can be a helpful complement of a holistic approach to ADHD, because it helps the body activate its parasympathetic nervous system response.  Thirty children aged 7-18 diagnosed with ADHD were divided into two groups: a treatment group and a control group. The treatment group received 20-minute massages twice a week for a month.  The study reports that the children from the massage group had improved short-term moods and long-term social behavior.  Although more research still needs to be done on the long-term efficacy of massage therapy, there’s no doubt that a calm, restful environment does wonders for the ADHD mind.

As of now, there are no massage techniques specifically designed for individuals with ADHD. However, some methods have greater impact than others, because they access and stimulate the parasympathetic responses better than other techniques.  Here are some of the massage techniques that can be helpful:

Swedish massage

Swedish massage is a series of techniques designed to release toxins from muscles and increase oxygen flow by applying pressure on deep muscles and bones while massaging in the same direction as blood flow. While the toxin release can benefit anyone with ADHD, what make Swedish massages particularly effective are its slow, stroking movements, which have a sedative effect.

Cranial-sacral therapy

Cranial-sacral therapy is designed to restore the natural movement of the bones of the skull to ease the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid throughout the nervous system.  Besides freeing up any restrictions in the cranium that may contribute to ADHD, the movements used in cranial-sacral therapy are soothing enough to initiate parasympathetic responses.

Myofascial Release

This technique focuses on the fascia, the thin tissue covering all the organs of the body, including every muscle and the fibers withi these muscles.  By treating the fascia as one interconnected web, this extremely gentle massage can bring relief by releasing tightness in injured fascia, freeing up any restrictions that inhibit energy flow.

Generally, any massage technique that uses large, slow strokes can bring relief and relaxation to anyone suffering from ADHD.  Be careful with techniques that use percussive massage; instead of inducing relaxation, they vitalize tissues and may excite someone with ADHD. Try different approaches and chose the one that fit your child best.