Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pediatric Massage Techniques for Cold & Flu Season

Here are a few pediatric massage techniques from Chinese medicine that you can use on your little ones to boost immune health and ease cold and flu symptoms.


Both of these techniques are used to promote vibrant energy and well-being in kids. They are best performed regularly on healthy kids for illness prevention, but it's ok to use them curatively on sick kids as well.

1. Pinching & Rolling along the spine:

In a warm room, start with your child on his/her belly, and fully expose the skin of the back. Apply a very small amount of oil or other massage medium on the the back by gently rubbing in a downward direction. (Olive, coconut or sesame oil are commonly used massage mediums to prevent chafing the skin.)

Place both hands on one side of the child's tailbone. Then use the tips of your thumbs, index and middle fingers to grasp or pinch a fold of fleshy skin on the bum or low back. Next, move your fingers forward while rolling the skin with both hands upward alongside spine.

So, you're pinching and rolling a fold of flesh all the way up the back from the bum to the base of the neck. Repeat 3-4 times on each side of the spine. (Do it in an upward direction only.)

Your child's skin might temporarily get a little red due to the quick histamine reaction of his/her delicate skin; but children generally enjoy this technique and don't find it painful.

My daughter loves it when I use this technique on her. We call it “creepy crawly massage,” since it's a little like a small critter creeping up her back.

Therapeutically, this “spinal pinching” maneuver is used to strengthen the child's body in general and to prevent disease, as well as to treat numerous diseases. It's a wonderful technique to do daily.

The power of this technique, according to Chinese medicine theory, relies on two rows of points (called shu points) extending like columns up and down the erector spinae muscles on either side of the spine. Each pair of shu point is associated with one of the twelve major organs of the body. Massaging in an upward direction alongside the spine, then, raises the energy of the body and strengthens and regulates all the major organ systems, boosting the immune system and all other physiological functions.

2. Circular palm-rubbing:

This is a great technique for moms to do on their babies while nursing or feeding, and it doesn't require much energy. Simply use your thumb to rub in a circular direction over the child's palm. Rub lightly so you glide smoothly over the skin (no massage oil necessary).

Therapeutic recommendation is to rub this circle 100-300 times, rapidly, making about two circles per second. But any amount is beneficial.

This circle on the palm is called the “nei ba gua,” or “inner eight trigrams.” The name comes from the ancient Daoist practice of placing a diagram of eight trigrams (see image at right) on very energetic parts of the body. In traditional theory, rubbing from one trigram to the next serves to move Qi internally from one organ of the body to another.

Rubbing a child's palm serves to regulate and harmonize all the internal organs of the child's body. This technique is particularly soothing for the digestive system. It is believed to be equivalent to massaging the child's lower abdomen, and often easier to do than rubbing the belly of a wiggly, ticklish child. Because digestion is fundamental to all body processes, especially in kids, circle-rubbing on the palm (or the belly) is soothing and supportive to overall health.


1. For Lung Congestion & Cough: Stroking the Ring Finger

This is another one moms can easily do while nursing.

The technique is performed just on the pad of the ring finger (the palmar surface of the most distal phalange, near the fingertip). Hold your child's fingers and use your thumb to stroke in a straight line from the distal transverse crease to the tip of the finger. Rub in one direction only, outward toward the fingertip, in a quick flicking motion. Repeat this move 100-500 times (about 3 repetitions per second).

The ring finger is used in treating the Lung. This maneuver helps to clear heat and phlegm from the lung in cases of lung congestion and cough.

1a. Also for Cough: Massage the Chest

Start at the very center of the chest, at the midline directly between the two nipples. Press and rub this point, "Chest Center," 30-60 times. Then use your fingers to rub in an outward direction (toward the arms) following the grooves between each of the ribs on the chest.

You could use a light massage oil with a few drops of an aromatic essential oil (like peppermint or eucalyptus). This will help loosen phlegm in the chest and ease cough. Be very careful not to use too much aromatic oil so that you don't irritate your child's skin. (Of course, it's best to use organic products and to be sure, first, that you're child is not hypersenstive to them.)

2. To Calm a Fever: Stroking the Forearm

On the inner surface of the forearm, rub in a straight line from the elbow crease toward the wrist. Rub in one direction only, rapidly, 100-300 times.

This technique is appropriate when the child is fevering and agitated. It will help release heat and pathogens from the body and calm the fever.

Apply an evaporative medium like rubbing alcohol or water (or even a dab of cooled-off peppermint or ginger tea) when you do this technique to help the body vent heat. DO NOT USE MASSAGE OIL in the case of fever or illness because oil traps heat and pathogens in the body.

3. For Nasal Congestion: Welcome Fragrance & Wasp Entering the Cave

In this technique, you'll gently massage the face itself.

The first pair of points, poetically called "Ying Xiang," or "Welcome Fragrance," are just lateral to the outside edges of the nostrils (see image to right). Press these points lightly with the tips of your index fingers and knead in tiny circles 20-30 times.

Then you can actually press gently on the nostril openings and rotate 20-30 times. This is called "Wasp Entering the Cave," and helps clear fever and congestion related to the common cold.

4. To Ease Headaches

Circular rubbing (30-50 repetitions) on the following point pairs of the head and face is useful:

  • The temples (also eases fevers and cold symptoms)
  • On the forehead just above the eyebrows (also reduces fevers and eye infections)
  • Back of the head, just under the base of skull at the top of the neck.

Also, rub the forehead (30-50 repetitions, or more):
  • Use your thumb to rub upward along the midline of the forehead, from the point just between the eyebrows up the hairline. This line is called "Heavenly Gate," and is used to calm agitation, anxiety and fear, in addition to easing fever, cold symptoms and headaches.
  • Use your fingers or thumbs to push apart the skin on the forehead, rubbing in an outward direction only from the center of the forehead to the temples. This is called "Pushing Apart the Water Palace," and is used release cold and flu pathogens and relieve headaches.

Have questions or need help with these techniques? Ask your acupuncturist for a demonstration. I have lots of information about home remedies and healing techniques you can use to help your child feel better.

Sources of Information for the Article:

Coursework with Dr. Raven Lang, OMD, L.Ac. (2009) and Alex Tiberi, L.Ac. (Pacific Symposium, 2002).

Chinese Pediatric Massage Therapy: A Parent's & Practitioner's Guide to the Treatment and Prevention of Childhood Disease by Fan Ya-li, Boulder: Blue Poppy Press, 1994.

Chinese Pediatric Massage: A Practitioner's Guide: Techniques and Protocols for Treating Childhood Illnesses and Chronic Health Problems, by Kyle Cline, LMT, Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 2000.