As Massage Therapists, we often see people coming in for their first visit to deal with intense pain, injury rehabilitation, or chronic conditions. We always wish we could have seen those people sooner since our work can be so helpful for injury prevention, discomfort caused by overly tight muscles, and imbalances that develop because of muscular issues or repetitive motions. Massage is preventive care. That’s why I love working with younger clients. As we age, we forget that even young bodies can develop tightness and pain. My daughter was born with Congenital Muscular Torticollis. That’s a scientific term for a terrible crick in the neck caused by being squished in my belly kind of sideways. For a few weeks, her head tilted to the side because the sternocleidomastoid muscle (running from behind her ear to her collarbone…see photo below) was tight on one side from having been cramped in the womb.
That meant that at one day old, she already had issues with hypertonic muscles that needed a little coaching into a more neutral position. My pediatrician told me to massage the tight muscle a few times a day and to encourage my baby to look in the direction that would help her stretch the muscle. Lucky for her, her mommy was a Massage Therapist and was only too happy to offer lots of bodywork! She is five years old now, and today, I caught her giving my 2-year-old a massage. Even she knows that there is no age minimum for the benefits of therapeutic touch.
As an experiment, ask your kids if they ever have painful, tight muscles. What about sore, creaky spots? Do a few stretches with them and see what they say. I’m amazed at the answers I sometimes get from my 5-year-old. My kids are a little clumsy and high-energy, so along with a long list of boo-boos, she usually has areas she points out where I can FEEL the tension and tightness. Minors do not necessarily need intensely deep work or extended sessions. Still, they can benefit hugely by being encouraged to become more aware of their body and verbalize how they feel.
Even adults tend to "push through the pain" and do not take time to slowly and intentionally gauge how their muscles feel. At the end of a day chasing two small kids around, there have been many times that I say to myself, "I didn't realize how tired and sore I was until I sat down." Pain and tension are not limited to a specific age range. Massage encourages kids to turn their focus inward and explore how their muscles feel instead of ignoring the pain. By receiving a massage, they are also learning healthy, effective ways to manage muscular issues and stress that inevitably develop with aging, physical jobs, or injuries later in life. I look back at my teen years and wonder if I would have cared for my body differently if I knew more about the effects of repeated impact on my knees while diving for volleyball or joint inflammation from repetitive throwing during Softball. I hear so many clients say how they would have modified an activity after feeling the long-lasting effects years or even decades later. My first massage was a gift from my mom because I wouldn’t stop complaining about back and foot pain from sports in high school. That first massage was life-changing, not just because it made me realize I wanted to be a massage therapist. I didn’t know that I could be pain-free! I eventually had surgery on each foot and still have a bum knee that clicks and grinds a lot, but I stay ahead of flare-ups by caring for my body, staying aware of how I am feeling, and using bodywork and self-care to reduce pain. In a session with a minor, I like to talk a little about how muscles work, where they attach, and why they can feel tight or sore. We discuss how the session will go before we get started and chat a bit about their typical day and activities. We do light to medium work of some of the large muscle groups, especially around their neck, shoulders, and back. Kids always seem to love neck and shoulder work. Do you remember being comforted when sick or scared as a kid… I still ask my mom for a back rub every now and then. We do some stretches, and we connect those movements with some info about the importance of hydration, stretching, and relaxation. If your kid is anything like mine, even intentional relaxation can boost their mood and help them calm that fidgety, anxious energy that can wind little kids up sometimes.
Kids can wear comfy clothes (tank top and shorts) because disrobing in a new environment when you are unsure of what to expect can understandably cause some nervousness. (Note: That goes for adults too….so much work that we do does not require you to disrobe. You can wear what you would to a workout or yoga class). Some kids need a little time to chat and learn about the session, while others jump on that table and get comfy like they are ready for a life of spa visits and pampering. We know each kiddo is a little different, and our goal is to make sure they are at ease, comfortable, and enjoy their session. We've worked on middle and high school athletes and kids as young as seven, but each parent knows their child best and knows when they may be ready. Kids younger than six may have a hard time resting on the table and might not enjoy sitting still for a session. They'd probably love a massage from parents until they are ready! For kids 13 and under, a 30-minute session is a great place to start, and we can decide together when a more extended session may be appropriate.
One way to encourage your kids to let you know how they are really feeling: do a quick yoga class with them at home and then talk about the poses. What was hard? What was easy? Did anything feel too stretchy? Not stretchy enough. Cosmic Kids Yoga has free videos on YouTube that blend yoga, stories, and fun with bright graphics and an engaging instructor. They are short and great for young kids and a great way to get a little stretch session yourself.