What Is Developmental Trauma and How Can Massage Help?

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When most people hear the term trauma their first thought is typically of the patients being rushed into the ER room with serious injuries, or of individuals who have gone through something emotionally scarring. We automatically associate trauma with an injury or event that negatively impacts our physical or mental state of wellbeing.

But did you know that certain traumatic events or situations could actually have powerful effects on our physical and mental development as well?

It’s a serious issue that affects many individuals, yet many people don’t seem to understand the depth of it. Fortunately, there are some treatment methods that have been found to have great results for these developmental issues.

Below, we are going to go into more detail about what developmental trauma is and how massage therapy can help.

What is Developmental Trauma? 

Developmental trauma, also sometimes known as Developmental Trauma Disorder or Adverse Childhood Experiences, is a term most commonly used to describe childhood trauma such as chronic abuse, neglect, or other harsh adversities that typically take place in the home.

Who Does It Affect?

Unfortunately, it is the mistreated children who are affected.

Events taking place during a child’s early years typically have the harshest impacts, but even children in their pre-teen or early teenage years can experience trauma that can affect them indefinitely.

What Are The Root Causes Of It?

Essentially, developmental trauma occurs when a child is in situations where they are overwhelmingly stressed and their caregivers are either unable or unwilling to provide aid in relieving that stress or, in worst-case scenarios, where the caregivers are the cause of the stress.

Events such as ongoing physical or emotional abuse and neglect are the two most common traumatic experiences that children can go through.

These situations cause an array of emotional, cognitive, and physical illnesses that impact how they progress through their lives.

What Are The Effects?

What actually happens during or because of developmental trauma disorder is that the child’s brain development is disturbed.

A child’s brain is meant to develop from the bottom up. Lower parts of our brains are responsible for functions dedicated to ensuring survival and responding to stress. Upper parts of the brain are responsible for what are known as executive functions. Proper development of the upper portions of our brains actually relies on the full development of the lower portions.

These children who are experiencing the chronic abuse or neglect end up having the sequence of their development changed – they develop the upper parts of their brains too quickly causing important developmental milestones to be missed.

This can lead to a variety of issues, such as Reactive Attachment Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Bi-Polar Disorder, different personality disorders, cognitive impairment, speech delay, and even learning disabilities.

What Treatments Are Available?

There is no real “cure” for developmental traumas. Dealing with developmental trauma requires unique, multi-layered approaches and, most importantly, time.

Some common therapies that are used to help ease or reverse the effects for those suffering from developmental trauma include:

  • Attachment Theory oriented approaches

Developmental trauma is like a puzzle, and the most effective way to treat it is to target the different pieces individually, rather than trying to tackle the overall issue as a whole.

One such piece is the underlying attachment issues that are so common amongst those suffering from developmental trauma. When working with patients who have developmental trauma disorder, often professionals will work on targeting these attachment issues first.

However, it is important to note that focusing solely on these is not productive – to heal properly, all pieces of the puzzle must be addressed.

  • Neuro-Sequential Model of Therapeutics

This is a model that focuses on recovering and repairing each part of a child’s brain in a specific, phased, and effective order. It is meant to structure the assessment of a child, the articulation of the primary problems, the identification of key strengths, and finally the application of interventions.

This is how professionals target the different pieces of the puzzle – but it is important to target each piece in the right order and at the right time.

  • Massage Therapy

This one may come as a surprise, but why should it? Massage therapy is widely known as having a wide range of physical and mental benefits, and is used to cure a variety of injuries, diseases, and disorders.

Keep reading to find out more about how massage therapy is now being used as part of the treatment for individuals suffering from developmental trauma.

How Can Massage Therapy Help Treat It?

Similarly to how massage therapy is used to help treat PTSD, it can also be helpful in the treatment process for developmental trauma patients.

As mentioned above, one type of therapy is not enough to treat developmental trauma as a whole, but each plays a part in relieving certain symptoms, effects, etc.

Individuals suffering from developmental trauma often suffer symptoms such as sleep disturbances, chronic pain, anxiety and/or depression, and migraines. Massage therapy is commonly used to heal these types of issues in other instances, so why not use them to ease the symptoms of developmental trauma as well?

Reducing symptoms like this may not cure the root of the problem, but they can ease the suffering of the individual. Of course, different types of symptoms require different types of massage therapy, and there are certain risks associated with massage therapy as well, so it is important to consult with a medical professional before turning to this type of treatment.

Time To Heal

It is probably clear to you by now that it is not easy to overcome developmental trauma – it is a long, difficult, and involved process – but it is possible.

Speak with your healthcare professional if you yourself, or someone you know, suffers from developmental trauma and find out if massage therapy is an appropriate way to begin to relieve some of the physical and emotional symptoms you or your loved one may be experiencing.

Do you have experience dealing with developmental trauma? Have you already tried massage therapy as a treatment for it?


  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/expressive-trauma-integration/201808/what-is-developmental-trauma
  2. http://www.housecallscounseling.com/developmentaltrauma/
  3. https://beaconhouse.org.uk/developmental-trauma/the-repair-of-early-trauma-a-bottom-up-approach/
  4. http://childtrauma.org/nmt-model/
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