MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Therapeutic Touch is a therapy mostly popular with nurses. We have discussed it before, for instance here, here, here and here. To call it implausible would be an understatement. But what does the clinical evidence tell us? Does it work?

This literature review by Iranian authors was aimed at critically evaluating the data from clinical trials examining the clinical efficacy of therapeutic touch as a supportive care modality in adult patients with cancer.

Four electronic databases were searched from the year 1990 to 2015 to locate potentially relevant peer-reviewed articles using the key words therapeutic touch, touch therapy, neoplasm, cancer, and CAM. Additionally, relevant journals and references of all the located articles were manually searched for other potentially relevant studies.

The number of 334 articles was found on the basis of the key words, of which 17 articles related to the clinical trial were examined in accordance with the objectives of the study. A total of 6 articles were in the final dataset in which several examples of the positive effects of healing touch on pain, nausea, anxiety and fatigue, and life quality and also on biochemical parameters were observed.

The authors concluded that, based on the results of this study, an affirmation can be made regarding the use of TT, as a non-invasive intervention for improving the health status in patients with cancer. Moreover, therapeutic touch was proved to be a useful strategy for adult patients with cancer.

This review is badly designed and poorly reported. Crucially, its conclusions are not credible. Contrary to what the authors stated when formulating their aims, the methods lack any attempt of critically evaluating the primary data.

A systematic review is more than a process of ‘pea counting’. It requires a rigorous assessment of the risk of bias of the included studies. If that crucial step is absent, the article is next to worthless and the review degenerates into a promotional excercise. Sadly, this is the case with the present review.

You may think that this is relatively trivial (“Who cares what a few feeble-minded nurses do?”), but I would disagree: if the medical literature continues to be polluted by such irresponsible trash, many people (nurses, journalists, healthcare decision makers, researchers) who may not be in a position to see the fatal flaws of such pseudo-reviews will arrive at the wrong conclusions and make wrong decisions. This will inevitably contribute to a hindrance of progress and, in certain circumstances, must endanger the well-being or even the life of vulnerable patients.

6 Responses to Therapeutic Touch: a dubious therapy backed by dubious research

  • The following motion has been proposed for discussion at the BMA’s Annual Conference at the end of June:

    “That this conference calls on the BMA board of science to report on the nature and rationale of Reiki, Johrei and other ‘energy medicine’ modalities as used by some NHS institutions. Such a report should initiate a wider national discussion on the cost effectiveness of these modalities; whether patients give fully informed consent to their use or are misled; the extent to which these powerful ‘energies’ might cause harm; the extent to which NHS institutions comply with relevant regulations for the introduction of innovative treatment; and how the use of these modalities might reasonably be rationed, if used at all.”

    It remains to be seen if there will be time to debate it, or if debated, whether BMA members will support the proposal.

    The intention is to try to nail whether or not these ‘energy modalities’, which includes ‘Touch’ do have any reproducible effects on any condition. Or not.
    If not, the next question is – ‘are proponents deluded, or knowing quacks seeking to defraud and take advantage of gullible and vulnerable patients?’

    As a magician I can demonstrate the transmission of forces over transcontinental distances, using the methods devised by Banacheck and called – ‘Touches’. We admit we are using imaginative illusions. We do not lie.

  • I
    Poked up ‘therapeutic touch’ websites. Much grim fun to be had. One gives a brief description of this nonsense, and ends with a sentence not a million miles away from ‘ The other theory is to do with quantum physics or something’.
    Very similar to a statement I once saw that said that ‘How homeopathy works is a bit too difficult for science to understand just yet’. Comically patronising, a bit like the claim in the previously mentioned documentary that science hasn’t yet developed instruments capable of detecting homeopathy’s workings. It’s Chris Morris’s ‘Brass Eye’- ‘iThere”s no evidence, but it is a fact’- applied to real life.

  • Apologies for going off thread, but yesterday’s Daily Telegraph did report that NHS Commissioning were setting out to exclude medicines that did not work, from NHS prescription – and the inexplicable fact that Mr Hunt and the Simon Stevens, CEO of the NHS, have failed to include homeopathy in the list of exclusions. (So, are they serious about their policies?).
    Why they have not included homeopathy is not explained, but ‘TT’ should fall into the same category.

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