Massages for Autism

Review of studies shows massage therapy for autism lacks convincing evidence

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) In the search for alternative treatments for autism, massage has surfaced as favored therapy. However, a new study shows that the evidence supporting the efficacy of massage therapy tends to be unreliable.

The study - which was conducted by Myeong Soo Lee, Ph.D.; Jon-In Kim, O.M.D., Ph.D.; and Edzard Ernst, M.D., Ph.D., FMedSci, F.S.B., F.R.C.P., F.R.C.P.Ed. - is published online in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Autism spectrum disorders affect an estimated 1 in 110 children in the United States. As autism remains a fairly mysterious disease, there exists an abundance of alternative therapies - many of which lack convincing support - including holding therapy, auditory integration therapy, and facilitated communication.

Massage therapy is among these emerging alternatives. In order to assess the efficacy of massage as a treatment for autism, the researchers studied 6 articles that presented evidence on the topic. Of those studies, one found that massage in addition to conventional language therapy was better than conventional language therapy on its own. Other studies showed that massage was beneficial to adaptive behavior, language and social abilities, and social communication.

After analyzing the studies, researchers determined that all 6 articles were subject to a high risk of bias because of either small sample sizes, predefined primary outcome measures, insufficient controls, and a lack of follow-up.

The authors conclude that there exists limited evidence for the efficacy of massage as therapy for the symptoms of autism. They say that future research should center around "more rigorous randomized clinical trials."

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 12, 2011
Last Updated:
January 13, 2011