Recognizing the Benefits of Music and Massage Co-therapy in Pediatric Palliative Care

Recognizing the Benefits of Music and Massage Co-therapy in Pediatric Palliative Care 1024 680 JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM

For adolescent patients in home-based pediatric palliative care, co-treatment with music therapy and massage therapy benefits both the patients and their families.

A case study recently published in Music & Medicine reported the benefits of co-treatment with music therapy and massage therapy for a patient in home-based pediatric palliative care.

Complementary therapies, such as music therapy and massage therapy, are increasingly used in hospice and palliative care. Their numerous benefits include psychosocial wellness, alleviation of physical symptoms and legacy-building.

For pediatric palliative care, specific attention is paid to ensure that the patient and their caregivers benefit from interdisciplinary care, which can incorporate various complementary therapies.

Research on co-treatment with music therapy and massage therapy in pediatric palliative care is sparse.

“The interdisciplinary nature of pediatric palliative care is relatively new,” explains Ben Reader, PT, DPT,  one of the case study’s authors and a research scientist in the Divisions of Clinical Therapies and Homecare at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

He explains that other factors contributing to the lack of research on this co-treatment include a lack of standardized assessment tools for music therapy and massage therapy and the highly individualized nature of these therapies.

Jessica Bogacik, MS, MT-BC, lead study author and a board-certified music therapist at Nationwide Children’s, reported on a 17-year-old male patient in home-based pediatric palliative care who received biweekly 45-minute music therapy and massage therapy sessions.

The patient had multiple diagnoses, including spinocerebellar ataxia and dysarthria, and a diminished quality of life due to discomfort and a loss of communication.

During their initial assessments, Ms. Bogacik and the massage therapist obtained information from the patient and his mother regarding musical background and preferences, energy level and pain concerns. The massage therapist also observed the patient’s reaction to touch.

Both therapists performed in-session assessments, observing non-verbal responses such as mood, facial expressions, muscle tension and pain.

“Music therapists use various assessment tools in session, including standardized pain assessments and communication with the patient and family,” explains Ms. Bogacik.

She employed the iso-principle during her music therapy. “The iso-principle involves selecting music to meet the patient where they are, regarding mood and physiological state,” she explains, promoting relaxation.

The massage therapist observed reduced muscle tension and involuntary body movements with massage, noting that the patient fell asleep after most massage therapy sessions.

The patient’s mother expressed appreciation for the co-treatment and was grateful for the opportunity it gave her son to experience mental and physical relaxation.

“Our research demonstrated that music and massage therapies, when applied together, may address the holistic well-being of patients and families,” Dr. Reader says.

He emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary teamwork in pediatric palliative care. “It’s not just not about individual therapy sessions. It’s about how these therapies work together to provide comprehensive support.”

Next steps include implementing more robust methodologies to validate the benefits of co-treatment with music and massage therapy and gathering feedback from patients’ parents and caregivers, Dr. Reader explains.

Ms. Bogacik underscores the need for standardized assessments for music therapy. “The benefits of such a tool would be numerous, including promoting the credibility of music therapy and improving music interventions,” she says.



Bogacik J, Pargeon B, Sonk A, Economos A, Engle S, Reader B. Music therapy and massage therapy co-treatment in home-based pediatric palliative care: An adolescent case study. Music and Medicine. 2023. 15(3):163-167.

Image credit: Adobe Stock

About the author

JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM, is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer in Atlanta, GA. She received her veterinary degree from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and completed a 2-year postdoctoral research fellowship at Emory University’s Yerkes Primate Research Center before beginning her career as a medical writer.

As a freelance medical writer, Dr. Pendergrass focuses on pet owner education and health journalism. She is a member of the American Medical Writers Association and has served as secretary and president of AMWA’s Southeast chapter.

In her spare time, Dr. Pendergrass enjoys baking, running, and playing the viola in a local community orchestra.