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Therapeutic Touch

 

Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified health care professional before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Related Terms

  • Biofield therapies, energy healing, external Qigong, gentle touch, healing touch, Krieger-Kunz Therapeutic Touch, laying on of hands, off-body energy field healing, relaxation touch, Reiki, Slow Stroke Massage, spiritual healing, Touch Healing (TH) therapy, TT.

Background

  • Delores Krieger, RN, PhD, and Dora Kunz, a natural healer, developed therapeutic touch (TT) in the early 1970s. TT is an adaptation of several religious and secular healing traditions and is commonly used in nursing practice for many different conditions.
  • TT practitioners hold their hands a short distance from the person receiving the therapy without actually making physical contact. The purpose of this technique is to detect the person's energy field, allowing the TT practitioner to correct any perceived imbalances. Nurse Healers Professional Associates, Inc. is the primary training organization for TT and teaches the technique. TT treatment consists of four steps: centering (calming the mind and focusing attention on the person), assessing the person's energy field for irregularities, intervention to facilitate symmetrical flow of energy through the field, and evaluation/closure to confirm the effects and conclude the treatment. Treatment sessions usually last from five to 30 minutes. Currently there is a lack of formal certification or competency-based assessment for this therapy.
  • The concept of "life energy" or "life force" has sometimes been compared to spiritual rather than scientific principles. Some critics argue that because of its religious roots, TT should be treated as a religion rather than as a healthcare therapy. Skeptics have sought to eliminate TT as a nursing practice, due to questions surrounding the mechanism of action. However, suggestive results from several human studies, positive clinical experience, and case reports have led to increasing use of TT.
  • Several variations have grown out of the original treatment but aspects of centering and intent have remained the foundations of this technique. Janet Mentgen founded healing touch in the 1980s based on the principles of TT. Healing touch adds patient empowerment, practitioner self care, and focuses on the impact of the practitioner-patient relationship.

Theory

The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.

  • The way therapeutic touch (TT) may affect the body is not clearly understood. It is theorized that TT affects people through the connection of energy fields within and outside of the body. Energy is thought to stimulate internal mechanisms to treat physical symptoms. The autonomic nervous system is felt to be particularly sensitive to TT, followed by the lymphatic, circulatory, and musculoskeletal systems. Female endocrine disorders are believed to be more sensitive than those affecting males. Manic and catatonic people have been reported to respond to TT. Most scientific studies of TT have examined the effects on pain and anxiety.
  • Well-designed studies evaluating the effectiveness of TT for human conditions are limited. One general review of TT as a treatment found the current supportive evidence on the therapy to be weak.
  • A controversial study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 reported that a group of TT practitioners were unable to sense energy fields. The study was widely publicized and hailed as a landmark article, but has been criticized by some TT providers because it did not measure improvements in symptoms or satisfaction in the people receiving the therapy.

Evidence

 

Uses based on scientific evidence 

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare professional.

Grade* 

Alzheimer's dementia 

Various studies suggest that therapeutic touch may be beneficial in people with dementia, particularly in reducing disruptive speech, anxiety, and promoting relaxation. A review of two studies concluded that massage and touch may be useful in treating the various conditions such as agitation, anxiety, and depression in dementia.

B 

Anxiety 

There is some evidence to suggest that therapeutic touch may relieve anxiety and stress in adults with heart disease and mental illness. As many studies on therapeutic touch have not been well-designed, further research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be made.

B 

Pain 

Therapeutic touch may reduce pain caused by arthritis, burns or surgery. However, most studies of therapeutic touch have not been well-designed and therapeutic touch has not been clearly compared to common pain treatments such as pain-relieving drugs. Further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.

B 

Stress 

There is some evidence that therapeutic touch may reduce stress in children and adults. However, evidence is currently inconclusive as some studies did not find therapeutic touch to reduce stress. Additional well-designed clinical trials are necessary.

B 

Well-being in cancer patients 

Some evidence suggests that therapeutic touch may improve well-being in people with cancer and reduce chemotherapy side effects. Well-designed clinical trials are necessary to confirm these findings.

B 

Arthritis 

Early research suggests that therapeutic touch may reduce pain and improve hand function in people with arthritis. However, overall, evidence is weak. Further research is necessary.

C 

Carpal tunnel syndrome 

Preliminary research suggests that therapeutic touch may provide limited benefit in carpal tunnel syndrome. More studies are needed to determine if therapeutic touch is an effective treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome.

C 

Depression 

Limited evidence suggests that therapeutic touch may offer some benefits for people with depression. More research is needed.

C 

Diabetes 

Preliminary research suggests that therapeutic touch may not have any effects on blood sugar levels in diabetics. There is not enough evidence to support therapeutic touch as an effective treatment for diabetes. Further research is necessary.

C 

Fibromyalgia 

Preliminary research suggests that therapeutic touch may be an effective treatment option in relieving pain and improving quality of life for people with fibromyalgia. Further research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

C 

Galactagogue (lactation stimulant) 

Although it has been suggested that therapeutic touch may help promote breast milk flow, preliminary research did not support this use. Further research is necessary.

C 

Headache 

Therapeutic touch may reduce pain in people with tension headache. Further study is necessary in order to make a conclusion.

C 

HIV/AIDS 

There is currently not enough evidence for or against the use of therapeutic touch in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Further research is necessary.

C 

Hypertension (high blood pressure) 

Evidence suggesting that therapeutic touch may reduce blood pressure is currently lacking. Well-designed clinical trials are necessary before any conclusions can be made.

C 

Psychiatric disorders (children) 

Preliminary evidence suggests that therapeutic touch may benefit children with mental disorders. Some evidence suggests that adolescents were able to communicate better and felt relaxed after therapy. Additional research is needed.

C 

Rehabilitation 

Early research suggests that therapeutic touch may provide benefits in combination with standard care. However, supportive evidence is currently lacking. Further research is needed in this area.

C 

Relaxation 

Researchers suggest that energy-based therapies may promote relaxation. Preliminary research suggests that therapeutic touch may promote relaxation, particularly in people in pain. Well-designed clinical trials are necessary before any conclusions can be made.

C 

Wound healing 

Although some studies report an improvement in wound healing with therapeutic touch, others show no benefits. Further research is necessary.

C 

 

*Key to grades: 

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use;
B: Good scientific evidence for this use;
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use;
D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work);
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).

For full grading rationale, click here.

Uses based on tradition or theory 

The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional

Bone healing, cancer, cancer pain, childbirth preparation, chronic fatigue syndrome, dystonia (muscle disorder), epilepsy, grief, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, muscle relaxation, palliative care, Parkinson's disease, postpartum, sarcoidosis, sinusitis, sleep enhancement, trauma, well-being, well-being during pregnancy.


Safety

Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

  • Therapeutic touch (TT) is believed to be safe when performed by a trained practitioner for most people. Treatment sessions may be shorter for children than adults. TT should not be used for potentially serious conditions in place of more proven therapies. Some of the adverse effects reported are restlessness, anxiety, dizziness, nausea, and irritability. Some of these effects may not have been directly related to TT but may have been incidental. Tension headache and crying have also been associated with TT. Some TT providers believe that this therapy should not be practiced on people with fever or inflammation and should be avoided on body areas with cancer.
  • Use cautiously in people with autoimmune disorders and in those taking CNS depressants and agents that may affect the immune system.
  • TT may affect blood pressure. Caution is advised in people taking agents that may also affect blood pressure.
  • TT may increase the amount of drowsiness caused by some drugs. Examples include benzodiazepines such as lorazepam (Ativan®) or diazepam (Valium®), barbiturates such as phenobarbital, narcotics such as codeine, some antidepressants, and alcohol. Caution is advised while driving or operating machinery. TT may also increase the amount of drowsiness caused by some herbs or supplements.
  • TT may interact with antidepressants and painkillers.
  • There is currently a lack of scientific evidence on the use of TT during pregnancy or lactation.

Authors

Selected References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Blankfield RP, Sulzmann C, Fradley LG, et al. Therapeutic touch in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. J Am Board Fam Pract 2001;14(5):335-342.
  2. Denison B. Touch the pain away: new research on therapeutic touch and persons with fibromyalgia syndrome. Holist Nurs Pract 2004;18(3):142-151.
  3. Frank LS, Frank JL, March D, et al. Does therapeutic touch ease the discomfort or distress of patients undergoing stereotactic core breast biopsy? A randomized clinical trial. Pain Med 2007 Jul-Aug;8(5):419-24.
  4. Giasson M, Bouchard L. Effect of therapeutic touch on the well-being of persons with terminal cancer. J Holist Nurs 1998;16(3):383-398.
  5. Gordon A, Merenstein JH, D'Amico F, et al. The effects of therapeutic touch on patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. J Fam Pract. 1998;47(4):271-277.
  6. Gregory S, Verdouw J. Therapeutic touch: its application for residents in aged care. Aust Nurs J 2005 Feb;12(7):23-5.
  7. Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., and Moore, C. I. Cortical dynamics as a therapeutic mechanism for touch healing. J Altern Complement Med 2007;13(1):59-66.
  8. Larden CN, Palmer ML, Janssen P. Efficacy of therapeutic touch in treating pregnant inpatients who have a chemical dependency. J Holist Nurs 2004;22(4):320-332.
  9. Lin Y-S, Taylor AG. Effects of therapeutic touch in reducing pain and anxiety in an elderly population. Integrative Medicine 1998;1(4):155-162.
  10. Müller-Oerlinghausen B, Berg C, Droll W. [The efficacy of Slow Stroke Massage in depression] Psychiatr Prax 2007 Sep;34 Suppl 3:S305-8.
  11. Peters RM. The effectiveness of therapeutic touch: a meta-analytic review. Nursing Science Quarterly 1999;12(1):52-61.
  12. Post-White J, Kinney ME, Savik K, et al. Therapeutic massage and healing touch improve symptoms in cancer. IntegrCancer Ther 2003;2(4):332-344.
  13. Rosa L, Rosa E, Sarner L, et al. A close look at therapeutic touch. JAMA 4-1-1998;279(13):1005-1010.
  14. Turner JG, Clark AJ, Gauthier DK, et al. The effect of on pain and anxiety in burn patients. J Adv Nurs 1998;28(1):10-20.
  15. Woods DL, Craven RF, Whitney J. The effect of on behavioral symptoms of persons with dementia. Altern Ther Health Med 2005;11(1):66-74.
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