Therapeutic Touch Study

 

Therapeutic Touch Eases Knee Arthritis Pain

NEW YORK, Oct 26, 1998 (Reuters Health) -- The results of a small scientific trial suggest that an alternative therapy known as therapeutic touch can lessen the pain of arthritis of the knee in some patients.

"Our results showed that therapeutic touch decreased arthritis pain and improved (patient) function and general health status,'' conclude researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pennsylvania. Their report is published in the October issue of The Journal of Family Practice.

During therapeutic touch, practitioners pass their hands over the patient's body in an attempt to realign what they believe are "imbalanced" energy fields contributing to illness.

The treatment has come under fire as unproven and ineffective in recent months, most notably in a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association last April.

In the new study, the Pittsburgh team tracked the self-reported joint pain of 27 patients diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee. For 6 weeks, eight of the patients received therapeutic touch from trained practitioners, while another eight received no therapy. To control for the influence of "the placebo effect'' -- where patients respond to treatment, even sham treatment, because they believe in it -- the remaining 11 patients received "mock" therapeutic touch, in which nurses mimicked the motions involved in the therapy even though they had no training in other aspects of the procedure.

The result? "`The treatment group had significantly decreased pain and improved function as compared with both the placebo and control groups,'' the researchers report. Although the benefits experienced by the treatment group did begin to fade once therapy stopped, most of those who had undergone therapeutic touch said they still felt somewhat better many weeks after treatment.

One patient told researchers "`everything (has changed). I can walk. I have no pain. I have no swelling.'' Another said the treatment meant she might not "have to get a knee replacement as quickly.'' The study authors say that all of the subjects receiving therapeutic touch described their therapy sessions "a pleasant experience.''

The authors admit that their study size was relatively small, and they believe "a larger study is needed to confirm these results.''

They also conclude that "it may well be that therapeutic touch works in a different way than by manipulating energy fields,'' and they urge further studies aimed at investigating underlying mechanisms. In the meantime, however, the Pittsburgh authors contend that "it would be imprudent to reject a safe and effective therapy because we do not understand or do not accept its mode of action.''

SOURCE: The Journal of Family Practice 1998;47:271-277.

Comment: Therapeutic Touch is a non-touch modality using the hands of the practitioner to move energy and to emit energy. Reiki is a related, hands-on energy technique. This study is one of many underway to investigate Therapeutic Touch and Reiki, as well as other complementary healing techniques. So far, by interim reports, most studies show the same kind of positive results.