In 1955, former US president John F Kennedy was prescribed a rocking chair by his doctor to alleviate his chronic back pain. JFK found it so effective that he took one on Air Force One, used one at Camp David and also on his familydoctor was on to something, because research shows rocking has some surprising benefits for both physical and mental health. In terms of physical benefits, the action engages the thigh and abdominal muscles to provide a mild form of exercise,increases circulation and improves knee strength and flexibility. But it’s the effects of the rhythmic motion that offer the most interesting benefits.
“Rocking can tap into the parasympathetic nervous system,” physiotherapist Brad Beer says.
“This is the sedative side of the nervous system and therefore good for pain management. Think about an upset child or someone who suffers from autism – they have a natural inclination to rock themselves, which releases endorphins to relieve the stress.”
Sitting in a rocking chair is relaxing, rejuvenating and calming all at once, and there’s science to prove it. So next time you see someone’s grandmother rocking on the front veranda, take a moment to consider there could be more to it than meets the eye. Here are a few health conditions that can benefit from some rocking chair therapy.
A two-year study from the University of Rochester in the US found that the repetitive action of using a rocking chair helped ease anxiety anddepression, improve balance and reduce the need for pain medication.
After rocking for an average of 100 minutes a day, 11 of the 25 study participants, who were aged 72-95, showed a reduction of up to one-third in anxiety, tension and depression. Several patients requested less medication and the more overzealous rockers improved their balance, which was attributed to the stimulation of their vestibular system, the part of the body that helps us maintain balance.
Recovering from major surgery
Rocking chair therapy has been used for easing lower back pain,constipation, abdominal pain from C-sections and bowel dysfunction following surgery.
A study by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in the US looked at how long it took patients who’d undergone surgery for abdominal cancer to pass gas, a process that’s indicative of their recovery. The group who rocked post-surgery passed gas 16.8 hours earlier than those who didn’t.
The university’s director of nursing, Robert Massey, says this result is due to stimulation of the vestibular nerves in the ears. Put simply, surgery causes stress to the body and rocking in a chair calms this response.
Sufferers of vertigo and bouts of dizziness may also benefit from time in a rocking chair. A study by the Baylor College of Medicine in the US found that vestibular rehabilitation therapy, such as rocking chair therapy, can reduce the symptoms of those patients who can’t be treated through surgery.
“The elderly – an increasing proportion of our society – are often prime candidates for vestibular rehabilitation therapy,” study researcher Greg Ator says. “It appears that patients with peripheral vertigo with classical symptoms, especially of an episodic variety, will definitely benefit from a vestibular rehabilitation program.
The light exercise that occurs when using a rocking chair burns calories, improves knee extension and strengthens hand muscles. A group of elderly women aged 73-87 who participated in rocking chair training as part of a University of Queensland study showed both increased mobility and physical fitness afterwards.
Chronic pain management
Researchers at the University of Carolina in the US set out to prove that regular rocking can ease the effects of chronic pain. A group of women all suffering from fibromyalgia (a condition characterised by widespread chronic pain), rocked for 10 minutes, three times weekly, for 16 weeks. They all reported a sense of calmness during those 10 minutes, and all said that helped them manage their pain.
Pain relief during labour
Women who use a rocking chair during labour experience less pain, according to a French study. The pain scores of 50 women were recorded in three positions: lying down, sitting and rocking. For both the lying and sitting positions, an average pain score of 8/10 was recorded, while for rocking the score was 6/10.
the percentage by which symptoms of anxiety and depression MAY be relieved by using a rocking chair.
the percentage of elderly women who were still using a rocking chair three months after taking part in a University of Queensland study – because they felt it boosted their overall fitness and mobility.