The existing reviews of massage therapy (MT) research are either limited to infants, adults, or were conducted prior to the publication of the most recent studies using pediatric samples. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of pediatric MT are reviewed. A literature search yielded 24 RCTs of pediatric MT, defined as the manual manipulation of soft tissue intended to promote health and well-being in recipients between 2 and 19 years of age. Because RCTs of pediatric MT varied considerably in the amount and types of data reported, quantitative and narrative review methods were both used. Single-dose and multiple-dose effects were examined separately. Among single-dose effects, significant reductions of state anxiety were observed at the first session (g = 0.59, P < 0.05) and the last session (g = 1.10, P < 0.01) of a course of treatment. Effects for salivary cortisol (g = 0.28), negative mood (g = 0.52) and behavior (g = 0.37) were non-significant. Three of eleven multiple-dose effects were statistically significant. These were trait anxiety (g = 0.94, P < 0.05), muscle tone (g = 0.90, P < 0.01) and arthritis pain (g = 1.33, P < 0.01). Results of studies not permitting effect size calculation were judged to be generally consistent with quantitative results. MT benefits pediatric recipients, though not as universally as sometimes reported. Numerous weaknesses endemic to MT research (e.g. low statistical power, frequent failure to report basic descriptive statistics) are identified, and recommendations for future pediatric MT research are discussed.
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