MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Therapeutic touch (TT) is a popular ‘energy therapy’ which is based on the use of hand movements and detection of ‘energy field congestion’ to correct alleged imbalances that, in turn, are postulated to stimulate self-healing. The effectiveness of TT during radiotherapy for breast cancer is unknown, and this study was aimed at shedding some light on it.

Women undergoing adjuvant radiation for stage I/II breast cancer post surgery were recruited for this study. TT treatments were administered to patients in the experimental group three times per week following radiation therapy. The control group did not receive any TT. Both groups had conventional care in addition.

The effectiveness of TT was evaluated by documenting the ‘time to develop’ and the ‘worst grade of radiation’ dermatitis. Toxicity was assessed using NCIC CTC V3 dermatitis scale. Cosmetic rating was performed using the EORTC Breast Cosmetic Rating. The quality of life, mood and energy, and fatigue were assessed by EORTC QLQ C30, POMS, and BFI, respectively. The parameters were assessed at baseline, and serially during treatment.

A total of 49 patients entered the study (17 in the TT group and 32 in the control group). Median age in TT arm was 63 years and in control arm was 59 years. TT was considered feasible as all 17 patients screened completed TT treatment. There were no side effects observed with the TT treatments. In the TT group, the worst grade of radiation dermatitis was grade II in nine patients (53%). Median time to develop the worst grade was 22 days. In the control group, the worst grade of radiation dermatitis was grade III in 1 patient. However, the most common toxicity grade was II in 15 patients (47%). Three patients did not develop any dermatitis. Median time to develop the worst grade in the control group was 31 days. There was no difference between cohorts for the overall EORTC cosmetic score and there was no significant difference in before and after study levels in quality of life, mood and fatigue.

Based on these findings, the authors drew the following conclusions: This study is the first evaluation of TT in patients with breast cancer using objective measures. Although TT is feasible for the management of radiation induced dermatitis, we were not able to detect a significant benefit of TT on NCIC toxicity grade or time to develop the worst grade for radiation dermatitis. In addition, TT did not improve quality of life, mood, fatigue and overall cosmetic outcome.

Like all forms of ‘energy healing’, TT lacks any biological plausibility and is not clinically effective. At best, it can generate a placebo-response; but in this particular study it did not even manage that.

Is it not time to stop fooling patients with outright quackery?

Is it not time to stop spending scarce research resources on such nonsense?

Is it not time that editors stop considering such rubbish for publication?

Is it not time to stop allowing TT-proponents to undermine rationality?

Is it not time to make progress and move on?

10 Responses to Therapeutic Touch – time to stop taking such rubbish seriously!

  • The answer to the questions the Professor poses is, yes.

    Moreover, if these ‘energies’ are capable of doing anything, they must comply with health and safety legislation to ensure a slightly misplaced hand position does not actually make the condition worse, before they can be used on the public more generally. And patients must of course give fully informed consent.

    Reiki likewise.

    • I get what you meant, but i really don’t think it’s a good idea (in a philosophical point of view) : it would aknowledge that there is ‘mystical energy’ around here (good or bad). We just need to cut the BS, not put some rules over it.

  • TT in the US has a political component which supersedes rational concerns for patient care. It is often the province of nursing departments and it an area where nurses can provide direct patient “care” that does not have to be ordered or approved by physicians. Any criticism is looked on as anti-feminist elitism. Practitioners “know” it works and attempts to eliminate the practice are looked at as attempts to usurp control. Whether or not the science says TT is useless is not the issue.

  • TT was shown up by a 9 year old years ago, they can’t feel the field, simples

    So depressing, how do you kill these zombie ideas ?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therapeutic_touch

  • “One highly cited study, designed by the then-nine-year-old Emily Rosa and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998, found that practitioners of therapeutic touch could not detect the presence or absence of a hand placed a few inches above theirs when their vision was obstructed.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therapeutic_touch
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Rosa

    My question is: Why is this abject nonsense still being peddled as efficacious health care, 17 years after Emily Rosa and others had fully debunked it?

  • TT is nothing more than Spiritual Healing and is claimed by some to be better than Reiki.

    • … Or any other placebo.
      And, of course, there’s no harm in taking advantage of the Placebo Effects which are part and parcel of good medical and nursing practice.
      – Providing that patients give fully informed consent to any particular modality of treatment which enhances those effects.
      But placebos they are and that is what patients must be told.
      (And they should be advised that Edzard considers placebo therapies as unwise in any event.)

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