Massage for ADHD

How Massage Can Benefit Those with ADHD

  Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is becoming one of the most common psychiatric labels, and one of the primary causes of behavioural issues, affecting 3-7% of school-age children and adolescents. Nine times as many boys are diagnosed with ADHD as girls. Approximately 2/3 of children with ADHD have other developmental disorders and learning difficulties eg. autism or bipolar. 

Symptoms of ADHD include:- 

• difficulty focusing attention

 • impulsive behaviour 

• overactivity levels past expectation for age group 

• poor academic performance

 • difficulty in social settings

 • can't adapt as well emotionally as kids without ADHD

 • speech problems 

• higher risk of delinquent behaviour and substance abuse 

• can be linked to learning disabilities, mood disorders and anxiety disorders

 More than 5 million children are prescribed ritalin for ADHD, which may improve attention span and behavioural symptoms in 75% of cases, but the effects only last as long as it's taken. 

Side-effects include:-

 • nervousness

 • headaches

 • sleeplessness

 • rapid heart rate

 • agitation 

• hallucinations

 • high blood pressure

 • seizures

 • heart arrhythmias

 • psychosis 


Shorter and more regular massages will benefit ADHD children more, and a suggested 20-minute massage twice a week can significantly improve ADHD symptoms. It is also worth parents learning some massage skills to supplement with sessions at home. 

Research has shown massage to:- 

• improve concentration and ability to do school work

 • reduce fidgeting

 • improved mood

 • improved longer-term behaviour 

• reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol 

• improved math computation performance 

• increased alertness levels 

• decreases depression 

• increase confidence 

• encourage a calm disposition 

• increases physical contact and interaction with others

 • calms the nervous system

 • calming before going to bed 

• may help develop coping strategies 


ADHD characteristics include:- 

• inattention

 • hyperactivity

 • impulsiveness

 • difficulty following directions, remembering information, concentrating, organizing tasks, or finishing work on time 

• having a short temper

 • defiance 

• increased tolerance for loud noise 

• activities that stimulate any of the senses 

Failure to manage these issues can cause behavioural, emotional, social and academic problems. Massage reduces cortisol levels which activate the fight or flight response, triggered by ADHD, which can also reduce depression and improve mental focus. Massage can potentially be an alternative to ADHD medication, which has a lot of side effects or could help improve the effectiveness of medication.   


 I have previously posted about the benefits of massage in those with ADHD, which included improvements in impulsive behaviour and inhibiting cortisol release which activates the fight or flight response. 

Research has shown that those with ADHD who are not on medication, often ‘self medicate’ with addictive behaviours such as comfort eating, drug use and pleasure inducing activities such as sex. The theory is that these activities are a natural way of increasing dopamine release, which lifts depression and makes us feel good. It is thought that ADHD may be due to an under developed frontal lobe in the brain, and the frontal lobe is loaded with dopamine sensitive neurons which are responsible for planning, problem solving and limiting sensory information from the thalamus. These pleasure seeking activities are like a compensatory mechanism for the underdevelopment of the frontal lobe. 

This explains the increased incidence of drug issues, weight problems, promiscuity and STIs in those with ADHD who are not on medication. This is how they get their dopamine fix and it may start from a favourite food as child or habits that develop as a teenager. 

Sex education in children with ADHD is particularly important to try to overcome any issues with hypersexuality, teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections etc but encouraging positive decision making can be difficult due to the ADHD tendency for low self esteem. These impulsive behaviours, if uncontrolled can further damage self esteem as well as relationships with others, so how can an unmedicated person with ADHD overcome this dopamine deprivation? 

This is where massage proves to be beneficial, because it reduces release of cortisol, which initiates the fight or flight response, and this may help overcome any impulsive behaviour. It also promotes release of endorphins, including dopamine, via the highly sensory experience of human touch. So not only can massage be a way of compensating for the reduced dopamine intake due to an under developed frontal lobe, it can also meet the increased sensory requirements associated with the reduced ability of the frontal lobe to limit sensory information from the thalamus. By offering this alternative to impulsive and addictive behaviours which potentially ruin relationships, massage can also help to maintain the persons social circle and self esteem. Not only can massage be used as a natural medication in adulthood, but is also a valuable preventive measure in children and adolescents.