Pediatric Massage: A Collaborative Approach with Occupational, Physical and Speech TherapyDecember 7, 2015
Pediatric massage therapists often work as part of a comprehensive multidisciplinary and integrative health care team alongside other health professionals such as occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech therapists.
In order to best collaborate, it is important to know what each professional does and how massage therapy can aid in their treatment of pediatric patients.
The role of an occupational therapist tends to focus more on evaluating and improving a child's functional abilities. An occupational therapist often does not directly treat a child's injury using techniques such as manual therapy, but more commonly helps a child optimize their independence and their ability to accomplish their daily activities following an injury or in situations of physical impairment.
Under their scope of practice, occupational therapists (OTs) do use some simple tactile therapy techniques to warm and soften tissues prior to their interventions, but not to the extent of the pediatric massage therapist. Having a child receive a massage prior to their occupational therapy session can often help with decreasing anxiety, sensory integration, body awareness, calming and focus, which can improve the outcome of the occupational therapy session.
The physical therapy profession (also called physiotherapy in many parts of the world) tends to be more focused on evaluating and diagnosing movement dysfunctions, as well as treating a child's injury. This type of therapy is used as treatment to help a child move his or her body. Often times, physical therapy helps children who have been injured or who have a physical difference or particular diagnoses, such as cerebral palsy. The physical therapist will be more likely to diagnose and treat the physical source of the problem; the injured tissues and structures.
When a physical therapist works with a child, they often use gentle stroking to warm the muscle group they intend to treat with range of motion, stretching and exercise protocols. When a pediatric massage therapist is co-treating with physical therapy, they often treat the child prior to the physical therapy session. This is a good approach, as it can help prepare the child's muscles and soft tissues to be softened and warmed, while relaxing and calming the nervous system. When muscles are softened prior to stretching and exercise protocols, they are often more effective. After a child has received a pediatric massage session, they are often in a good state of mind, and body readiness to best receive their other therapies.
Speech and language therapists work closely with infants and children who may have various levels of speech, language and communication problems, and also with those who have swallowing, drinking or eating difficulties. Many times, speech therapists and speech language pathologists use touch therapy as a method of waking up the nervous system, aiding in oral-motor function and opening the airways to create clear pathways.
Massage therapy can play a large and significant role in helping children in preparation for speech therapy by warming the soft tissues, relaxing tense areas in the body and facilitating deep breathing patterns and improvements in respiratory function.
Additionally, not all speech language pathologists have training in the use of manual therapy techniques. Preparation of the muscle and fascia tissues prior to initiating feeding and speech activities can require a significant amount of the therapy session time. Massage therapy provided before a therapy session could significantly reduce the amount of time the speech language pathologists may need to achieve release of tight or restricted tissue and spend more of the allotted treatment time focusing on functional activity.
Overlap Between Professions
As each healthcare professional working with pediatric clients and patients uses some form of tactile intervention or touch therapy under their scope of practice, there are often concerns of overlap between therapeutic roles. Having a better understanding of knowledge base and your professional scope of practice can help facilitate a conversation of collaboration between these professionals. Each healthcare professional has unique strengths and abilities to help each other, so children benefit from the most comprehensive and integrative care. When we collaborate together we participate in a comprehensive and well rounded treatment plan for the pediatric clients under our care.