Studies in MS and Other Conditions

Many anecdotal reports document the benefits of therapeutic touch. However, limited clinical studies have been undertaken on this technique.

No large clinical studies of therapeutic touch have been conducted in multiple sclerosis (MS). One study of an individual with MS reported improvement in stress and coping after one session of therapeutic touch (1).

Some symptoms that may occur with MS have been evaluated in small studies, reported primarily in nursing journals. Several studies indicate that therapeutic touch may decrease anxiety. Mild beneficial effects in small studies have been reported for pain after surgery, tension headaches, burn-associated pain, and arthritis.

Therapeutic touch has undergone limited investigation in other conditions. One study found that wounds heal more rapidly in those who receive therapeutic touch. Therapeutic touch is endorsed as a comfort-promoting technique by the National League for Nursing. Some of its benefits may be due to the attention and caring of the practitioner. Clearly, more research is needed to determine the effects of therapeutic touch.

The validity of therapeutic touch was questioned in a well-publicized article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) (2). In this study, a 9-year-old girl, Emily Rosa, along with several other investigators (including her mother and father) evaluated 21 therapeutic touch practitioners. Overall, the practitioners, when blindfolded, were not able to detect when their hands were near the hands of another individual. This study, which has been criticized for having significant methodological flaws, questions the conceptual basis of therapeutic touch.

In another study, it was found that people untrained in therapeutic touch could detect the location of an unseen hand if it was 3 or 4 inches away, but not 6 inches away. Also, at 3 inches, a glass shield led to an inability to detect hand location. The authors concluded that body heat, as opposed to an "energy field," was probably used to determine hand location (3).

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