Today, millions of children worldwide live with HIV. Regrettably, global access to antiretroviral drugs is not readily available. Massage therapy, which has been shown to improve immune function in HIV-positive adults and adolescents, may boost the immune systems of young children living with HIV.
A strong immune system allows the body to shore up its disease-fighting arsenal. In contrast, a weakened immune system is an open invitation for disease. For HIV patients, the immune system must be continuously built up to prevent the patient from succumbing to the disease. Research has proven the benefits of massage therapy among patients who were HIV-positive. Massage boosts immune system function by reducing anxiety and stress, increasing white blood cell counts, and decreasing the levels of the stress hormone, Cortisol, which has been noted to destroy immune cells. Massage has also been shown to activate the body's natural killer cells.
Recent research suggests that properly administered massage therapy may help preserve the immune systems of HIV-positive children who lack access to antiretroviral medication.
In a recent study conducted by the University of Miami School of Medicine, 54 HIV-positive children without antiretroviral medication were randomly assigned to either a massage group or a friendly visit control group. Those in the massage group received two 20-minute massage sessions per week for 12 weeks. Those in the friendly visit control group received two 20-minute friendly visits. Trained nurses administered moderate-pressure stroking and kneading massages. The study revealed that massage therapy appears to have a positive impact on immune function in HIV-positive children not receiving antiretroviral medications. Massaged children showed reduced lymphocyte loss (lymphocytes are the body's primary means of immune function).
If a child is HIV-positive, first consult a primary care physician before attempting massage therapy.