News & Perspectives

Therapeutic Touch Eases Chronic Pain

What the Study Showed
For many people trying to manage their chronic pain, cognitive behavior therapy can help enormously. According to this small clinical trial published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, that powerful boost can be further enhanced with therapeutic touch (TT), a mind-body technique. The pilot study was done in 2002 at the University of Southern Maine.

How it was Done
The three men and nine women recruited for the study had experienced constant or recurrent pain of various types for more than three months. All agreed to attend 12 weeks of cognitive behavior therapy (specifically, relaxation training classes) designed to help them manage this pain. In addition, seven of the participants were randomized to receive Therapeutic Touch (TT), undergoing individual sessions for three weeks.

Starting in week four, all of the participants met weekly for a cognitive behavior therapy program modeled after the book, Managing Pain Before It Manages You.

Between sessions, participants logged information about their pain experience. They charted, among other things, what worked well for the pain, the distress level they felt when the pain was bad, the degree of pain-related disability they experienced, and their success or failure in eliciting the relaxation response. They also described their self-efficacy: their ability to cope and function day-to-day.

At the end of 12 weeks, researchers pooled and analyzed the data.

Why It's Important
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one widely accepted way that millions of Americans manage chronic pain. It helps to alter the way pain is approached and handled, and often lessens associated depression. Quality of life overall improves. Side effects are minimal when compared to powerful and often pricey pain-control medications.

While the number of participants in this study was small (and the data therefore not as conclusive), the findings do point to even greater potential gains for those who got therapeutic touch (TT). TT is a mind-body technique that holds that the energy pulsating in and around all living beings can be manipulated, similar to what Western physicists call a force field. Sickness or injury depletes this energy. TT restores strength by clearing blocks in a person's energy field and helping the patient build up his own curative energy.

In this study, participants who received TT tended to report feeling even less pain and distress, and enhanced ability to function well during the day, than did those who only underwent cognitive behavioral therapy. Adding TT also encouraged participants to stick with the pain management program; 6 of the 7 participants getting TT completed the treatment program, compared with 2 out of the 5 who did not get TT.

These findings indicate that larger randomized clinical trials are worth pursing to "tease out" the relative contribution of therapeutic touch to cognitive behavioral therapy.

Source: Smith DW, Arnstein P, Rosa KC, Wells-Federman C. Effects of integrating therapeutic touch into a cognitive behavioral pain treatment program. Report of a pilot clinical trial. J Holistic Nursing 2002;20(4):367-387.

Date Posted: 04/29/2003

Date Published: 04/28/2003
> Printer-friendly Version Return to Top