Review suggests evidence on effectiveness of massage therapy to reduce challenging behaviours is limited


Challenging behaviour in people with learning disabilities can be highly disruptive for the person and those who provide them with support. This review set out to evaluate the evidence base for massage therapy, used with people with challenging behaviours to induce relaxation. The review aimed to identify whether massage therapy was effective in reducing the incidence or severity of challenging behaviours.

The literature search found 64 articles, of which only 7 met the review’s inclusion criteria. The studies were evaluated in terms of the number of participants, setting, methodology, intervention pattern, outcome measure of the intervention and major results.

The results of the review suggest that the evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of massage therapy in supporting clinical practice in this area is extremely limited. The majority of the studies were case studies or used large amounts of qualitative data. In addition the studies were small, with small samples which made it very difficult to substantiate the therapeutic effects of massage therapy.

The authors recommend further studies with randomisation or experimental design.

Massage as therapy for persons with intellectual disabilities, a review of the literature, Chan J et al., in Journal of intellectual Disabilities, 15,1, 47-62.

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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