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DeShawn is the new SUPERMAN. Even Shaquille O’Neal, the recently retired NBA superstar who was nicknamed “Superman” admits it. Don’t believe us?? Check out Shaq’s video to Deshawn: But what makes DeShawn the new Superman isn’t just his ridiculously strong muscles or his determined, persevering attitude. It’s also his kindness…his willingness to help others, even in his own time of need. When we asked DeShawn how we could make his hospital experience better, he gave us the nicest, most unselfish answer we’ve ever heard: he wanted his Mom to get a massage so that she could relax for a little while. But even Superman has trouble making that happen when he’s stuck in a hospital bed. That’s a problem…

So here’s what we’re going to do about it:

We’re going to provide children’s hospitals with MASSAGE THERAPY. Now, some of you might be asking what in the world a massage has to do with a healing environment. But to answer that question, all you have to do is think about the last time you had a massage…how relaxing it was, how it relieved all the stress of a long week of work. And who in the world is more deserving of a bit of relaxation than the patients and the parents of patients at children’s hospitals?? Not too many. Them and maybe The Monday Life team after our monthly Dance Dance Revolution single-elimination tournament… but that’s about it. Not to mention, massage therapy increases circulation of blood, reduces anxiety, relieves pain, and does a whole lot of other things that could really help the patients feel better and heal faster.

Learn Why Massage Therapy Matters (the science)

Massage therapy is a popular type of Complementary and Alternative Medical (CAM) therapy in which massage therapists manipulate deep soft tissue in order to stimulate pressure receptors. The use of CAM by patients with chronic or incurable conditions ranges from 30% to 70% (Kemper & Wornham, 2001).

Many studies have investigated the effects of massage therapy, demonstrating improvements in anxiety, depression, and cooperation in hospitalized children (Hernandez-Reif, et al., 1999). Additionally, chronic illness-related symptoms significantly improve following therapy. In one study, cystic fibrosis patients experienced reduced anxiety, increased mood, and increased peak airflows (Hernandez-Reif, et al., 1999). For such reasons, massage therapy is increasingly being incorporated into the health care field (Kemper & Wornham, 2001). For example, massage for pregnant women is associated with a decrease in hospital stay, postpartum depression, anxiety, pain, and agitation (Field, et al., 1997). Infants undergoing massage therapy were found to spend more time in active/awake states, cry less, and have lower stress levels (as measured by cortisol levels) as compared with rocking (Field, 1998). After six weeks of therapy, these infants gained more weight (an important marker of health in hospitalized patients), were more social, had decreased cortisol and catecholamine levels, and had an increase of gastrin and insulin absorption (Field, 1998). Massage therapy has also been tested in burn patients; anticipatory anxiety prior to debridement and pain during the procedure were significantly decreased following therapy (Field, 1998). Depression, cortisol levels, and anxiety were also lower after a five-day course of massage (Field, 1998).

Overall, 98% of patients experience increased relaxation and 88% experience positive mood change following massage therapy, according to one study (Smith, et al., 1999). Such findings were consistent throughout studies related to pediatric chronic conditions and post-operative pain (Field, 1998). The use of narcotics, as a result, was beneficially decreased in these patients, reducing contraindications and negative effects of pharmacotherapy (Field, 1998).

The primary mechanism for the beneficial impact of massage therapy is related to the gate theory of pain. Pain neurons are less myelinated and shorter in length than pressure and touch receptors; thus, pressure and touch stimulate the nervous system at a faster rate (Field, 1998). The pain stimulus is processed to a lesser degree (Field, 1998).

Biochemically, massage therapy has been found to decrease cortisol levels and increase serotonin and dopamine levels (Field, 1998). Cortisol is attributed to increased anxiety and inflammation (Field, et al., 2005). It increases under stressful activities and decreases with relaxation (Field, et al., 2005). Cortisol destroys natural killer cells, a type of immune cell that attacks cancer and viruses (Field, et al., 2005). Serotonin, often found in antidepressants and anti-pain medications, inhibits noxious signal transmission (Field, et al., 2005). Similarly, dopamine reduces depression and the effects of stress (Field, et al., 2005). Therefore, increasing serotonin and dopamine has beneficial effects on patients. Massage therapy also improves sleep, counteracting Substance P, a hormone related to decreased sleep and increased pain perception (Field, et al., 2005).

Massage therapy has been demonstrated to improve insulin levels, vagal activity, serotonin and dopamine, and to decreasecortisol levels (Field, 1998). These physiological changes are related to decreased perceived pain, anxiety, and depression as well as increased relaxation.  In addition to patient improvement, caregivers have been noted to beneficially improve from massage therapy; caregiver anxiety, depression, fatigue, and emotional burden have been reduced for caregivers of hospitalized individuals (Rexilius, et al., 2002).

Conclusion: Massage therapy is an important aspect of holistic medicine that is well supported to increase patient and parent satisfaction and healing while under treatment.      

Contributing Authors: Oren J Mechanic and Marley E Burns

Last Revised January 10, 2012.


Field TM, Hernandez-Reif M, Diego M, Schanberg S, Kuhn C. Cortisol decreases and serotonin increase following massage therapy. Intern. J. Neuroscience. 2005;1515: 1397-1413.

Field TM, Hernandez-Reif, Taylor S, Quintino O, Burman I. Labor pain is reduced by massage therapy. J. Psychosom. Obstet. Gynecol. 1997; 18: 286-291.

Field TM. Massage therapy effects. American Psychologist. 1998;53(12): 1270-1281

Hernandez-Reif M, Field T, Krasnegor J, Martinez E, Schwartzman M, Mavunda K. Children with cystic fibrosis benefit from massage therapy. J. Ped. Psych. 1999;24(2): 175-181.

Kemper KJ, Wornham WL. Consultations for holistic pediatric services for inpatient and outpatient oncology patients undergoing autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplant. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001;155: 449-454.

Rexilius SJ, Mundt CA, Megel ME, Agrawal S. Therapeutic effects of massage therapy and healing touch on caregivers of patients undergoing autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplant. . Oncology Nursing Forum. 2002;29(3): E35-E44.

Smith MC, Stalling MA, Mariner S, Burrall M. Benefits of massage therapy for hospitalized patients: a descriptive and qualitative evaluation. Altern Ther Health Med. 1999;5(4): 64-71.