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Touch Therapy: What’s the Hype About?

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

Have you ever heard of touch therapy? While many may consider it a bunch of hocus pocus, it does have a lot of research behind the benefits.

Touch therapy comes from a broader energy healing category, including things like tai chi, acupuncture, and reiki. These therapies operate on the premise that our body has a natural energy field that syncs into the mind-body connection and plays a part in health.

TTM, or Therapeutic Touch Modality, was birthed by the collaborative efforts of Dolores Krieger, Ph.D., and Dora Kunz. Their partnership gave rise to the Nurse Healers-Professionals Associates in 1979, establishing a foundation for their groundbreaking work.

Within touch therapy, the art of therapeutic touch emerged as the conduit to mend the intricate tapestry of body, mind, and spirit. Guided by its principles, those in good health are believed to possess a harmonious energy field, a testament to the interplay of vitality.

In contrast, individuals grappling with health challenges might experience an energy field out of alignment, an imbalance calling for restoration. As Dolores Krieger and Dora Kunz’s legacy unfolds, the unity of healing touch and energy finds resonance in the delicate dance of well-being.

In this article, we will dive deeper into what touch therapy is used for, what you can expect when applying it to your health regimen, and the research that backs it all up.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before making any changes to your daily health regimen.

What is Touch Therapy Used For?

The human body is designed in a way that it can heal itself, but the process may take time. Touch therapy aims to balance our body’s energy field to keep up this natural healing process. While research on touch therapy’s clinical impacts remains limited, those who partake in the practice often recount a plethora of physical, mental, and emotional transformations.

Touch therapy may provide the following benefits:

  • Relief from stress and anxiety
  • Pain relief
  • Fast would healing
  • Boosts immunity
  • Lowers side effects of chemotherapy
  • Improved sleep
  • Relief from fatigue
  • Cures symptoms of fibromyalgia and lupus
  • Offers benefits for dementia patients

What To Expect from Touch Therapy?

Touch therapy can involve physical touch or not, depending on the situation. Regardless, the recipient doesn’t need to undress as they can simply sit in a chair or lie down.

A typical touch therapy session goes through various phases:

  • Centering: To find a state of balance and tranquility, the practitioner employs breathing techniques along with imagery, meditation, and visualizations.
  • Assessing: By holding their hands a few inches above the individual’s body, the practitioner rhythmically sweeps from head to toe symmetrically. This step helps identify areas that might need attention.
  • Intervention: Often termed “clearing” or “unruffling,” this phase employs specific hand motions that encourage a symmetrical flow of energy within the body.
  • Balancing or Rebalancing: The practitioner then focuses on the areas they believe require realignment. They use their hands to address these specific points.
  • Evaluation or Closure: Throughout the session, the practitioner continuously assesses the energy flow. Using intuition, they determine when the recipient’s energy has achieved balance. This signals the appropriate time to conclude the treatment.

What Does the Science Say?

Currently, there is insufficient conclusive and high-quality evidence to definitively establish the effectiveness of healing touch or TTM. That said, the main research published is outlined below:

  • An example of this uncertainty can be observed in a 2016 study within the field of Cancer Nursing. This study compared the impact of healing touch and relaxation therapy on individuals undergoing stem cell transplants. The findings suggested that participants tended to tolerate healing touch better than relaxation therapy. Both forms of complementary therapy were linked to improved mental well-being and shorter hospital stays. However, the study did not ascertain the precise mechanisms behind these positive outcomes. It’s plausible that the placebo effect might contribute to these results.
  • Additionally, a more recent study from 2022, featured in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, indicated that therapeutic touch had a favorable influence on the spiritual well-being and sleep quality of 73 individuals receiving palliative care within a hospital environment.
  • In contrast, a review conducted in 2021 revealed that there is a lack of substantial, high-quality evidence to substantiate the purported benefits of these practices. The authors of the review analyzed 15 randomized controlled trials alongside several other studies and medical records. Despite 18 out of 21 studies reporting positive effects, most of these studies were marred by significant biases, methodological shortcomings, and limited participant numbers.
  • According to a 2013 review, healing therapy and touch therapy may offer benefits in alleviating pain, anxiety, and stress.
  • According to a 2016 review, touch therapy treatments could potentially alleviate pain, nausea, and fatigue. Quality of life improvement for individuals with cancer might be associated with touch therapy.
  • A small study involving 24 rats indicated that daily use of touch therapy treatments could accelerate wound healing.
  • According to a 2018 study involving 572 people with cancer, this study provided support for healing therapy as a means of pain relief.
  • A small 2019 study involving children with cancer found suggestive evidence that acupressure and touch therapy treatments might enhance well-being during cancer treatment.

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