The skin can be damaged in many ways, but burns can be particularly painful. Whether caused by heat, electricity or corrosive chemicals, severe burns can change be life changing. Treating severe burns isn’t easy- in fact, it’s one of the toughest challenges doctors have to face. Although most people would withdraw at the thought of having their burns touched and prodded, a great deal of research has proved that massage therapy plays an invaluable role in burn rehabilitation.

Categories of burns

First-degree burns- These are considered to be mild compared to more severe burns. They often lead to reddening of the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) and some pain.

Second-degree burns-These burns affect the epidermis and the dermis (the lower layer of skin), and can cause redness, swelling, blistering and a great deal of pain.

Third-degree burns- These are burns which penetrate through the dermis and affect deeper tissues. They often result in white or blackened, charred skin that is numb and excoriatingly painful.

Why massage can help

Whilst first-degree burns often heal in a couple of days, second-degree burns involve complete deconstruction of the epidermis and damage to the dermis. They can take much longer to heal and often result in fibrous scar tissues and hypertrophic scars, which are red, itchy scars that are incredibly sore and itchy. Due to the thickness of these scars, mobility and elasticity of the surrounding area can be compromised- this is where massage therapy can help.

A controlled study involving 146 burn victims concluded that burn rehabilitation massage therapy helps to relieve pain and itching, and also improves scar characteristics in hypertrophic scars.

The study found that massage therapy as part of burn treatment significantly decreases the thickness of scar tissue and improves the skin’s elasticity. The purpose of the massage is to help the scar mature to what doctors call, ‘good quality’. These are scars which are pale, flat and pliable. Over the years, trained masseuses have well developed palpation skills for locating the adhesions and constrictions in burn tissue. Similarly, Friction massage techniques may be used on the location of the scar. Despite not being directly affected, doctors often find that the surrounding muscles and tissue of a burn are also injured. This often causes spasms and shortened or thinned fascia. Massage therapy used alongside normal treatment can help to prevent soft tissue dysfunction and compensation patterns in response to trauma.

The proof

Massage isn’t just useful in theory; it has been proved over the years, time and time again. It has been shown to reduce burn-related pain, itching and even minimise anxiety from both the burn and whilst wounds are healing.

  • One study, published in October 2005 found that burn trauma children who received 30-minute massages before debridement or dressing change were more a great deal more relaxed during the treatment.
  • Another study published in 2000 stated that burn victims who received 30-minute massages twice a week had a lot less itching, pain and anxiety. This five week test also showed that it improved the moods of the control group.
  • According to research published in 1998, burn debridement sessions were far less painful after massage therapy. The researchers determined that massage reduced debridement pain because they relaxed patients and minimised their feelings of anxiety, depression and anger.
  • A further study showed that children who received massages on post-burn tissue had a greater range of motion as well as an improved mood, as opposed to those who didn’t.

The psychological impact

Often, psychological trauma is just as bad, if not worse than physical damage. The emotional initial response to trauma of this kind is usually fear, horror, helplessness, which can develop into long-term anxiety, depression and stress. When this happens, victims are usually hesitant to talk about their traumatic experience, which can remain with them for weeks, months or even years.

Burn injuries are often accompanied by losses; losses with depend on the individuals situation and extent of the burn injury. Grief is natural process which most people experience at least once in their lifetime, but this process is time limiting. Whilst grief doesn’t normally harm our self-esteem, it does encourage feelings of stress, depression and anxiety. Ultimately, a burn victim requires psychological medicine just as much as they need it physically. The mind needs to heal just as much as the body.

The psychological healing

Whilst skin heals in most cases, mental scars don’t always disappear as easily. Massage therapy as a complementary treatment for burn victims, is, in my opinion, a necessity. As well as being associated with multiple physical benefits, such as helping to heal scars and improving elasticity in the skin, massage therapy is a fantastic way to ease stress and anxiety for patients. Believe it or not, massage therapy encourages the body to discard harmful toxins from the body whilst stimulating the production of good hormones. Oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone’ and Serotonin are the body’s natural, ‘feel good’ drugs. Both encourage the feeling of happiness, which is absolutely necessary in order to overcome stress.

Similarly, for a burn victim, touch is a daunting thing. To them, being touched might cause pain and discomfort, therefore over time, they learn to fear and avoid it. Massage therapy helps people to re-associate touch with comfort pleasure, allowing burn victims to psychologically heal more. Massage therapy for burn victims is slow and gentle, and works to relax patients, not distress them. Massage therapists regularly ask for feedback from their clients, in order to establish whether certain techniques are painful or if they prefer certain movements. The integration of ‘positive’ touch at the start of the healing process could in fact speed up the process, both physically and mentally.

Whether you’re suffering from burns or are interested in becoming a burn trauma massage therapist, following the links below and learn more about how massage therapy could impact your life and the one’s of those around you.

Author's Bio: 

Oriental Massages provide many alternative therapies across London. More information on