MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

The authors of this paper wanted to establish and compare the effectiveness of Healing Touch (HT) and Oncology Massage (OM) therapies on cancer patients’ pain. They conducted pre-test/post-test, observational, retrospective study. A total of 572 outpatient oncology were recruited and asked to report pain before and after receiving a single session of either HT or OM from a certified practitioner.

Both HT and OM significantly reduced pain. Unadjusted rates of clinically significant pain improvement (defined as ≥2-point reduction in pain score) were 0.68 HT and 0.71 OM. Adjusted for pre-therapy pain, OM was associated with increased odds of pain improvement. For patients with severe pre-therapy pain, OM was not more effective in yielding clinically significant pain reduction when adjusting for pre-therapy pain score.

The authors concluded that both HT and OM provided immediate pain relief. Future research should explore the duration of pain relief, patient attitudes about HT compared with OM, and how this may differ among patients with varied pretherapy pain levels.

This paper made me laugh out loud; no, not because of the ‘certified’ practitioners (in the UK, we use this term to indicate that someone is not quite sane), but because of the admission that the authors aimed at establishing the effectiveness of their therapies. Most researchers of alternative medicine have exactly this motivation, but few make the mistake to write it into the abstract of their papers. Little do they know that this admission discloses a fatal amount of bias. Science is supposed to test hypotheses, and researchers who aim at establishing the effectiveness of their pet-therapy oust themselves as pseudo-researchers.

It comes therefore as no surprise that the study turns out to be a pseudo-study. As there was no adequate control group, these outcomes cannot be attributed to the interventions administered. The results could therefore be due to:

  • the time that has passed;
  • regression to the mean;
  • the attention provided by the therapists;
  • the expectation of the patient;
  • social desirability;
  • all of the above.

It follows that – just as with the study discussed in the previous post – the conclusion is wholly misleading. In fact, the data are consistent with the hypothesis that HT and OM both aggravated the pain (the results might have been better without HT and OM). The devils advocate concludes that both HT and OM provided an immediate increase in pain.

3 Responses to Healing touch and massage both increase cancer pain?

  • I hear this regularly from spiritual folk who are trying to conduct scientific research — that are setting out to “prove it scientifically”. They already “know” that it works, because they’ve “seen it work” (i.e. done A and interpreted B as the outcome and assumed both that their observation is correct so their inference must be too). They don’t realise it’s an immediate give away that their not doing science. Because they don’t know what science is. Because they think they already know it all thanks to their timeless spiritual wisdom, and “science” has yet to catch up to their advanced state of knowledge.

    Sadly, they haven’t discovered ancient wisdom of Aristotle’s list of logical fallacies and his view of science as an open-ended, evidence based mode of inquiry.

    • Yakaru might be spot on, 100%
      – but we might also be hearing from crooks, charlatans, quacks and frauds who have deliberately set out to take advantage of and exploit vulnerable and gullible patients.

      If plausible scientific inquiry is so casually set aside, how do we know what sort of folk these authors are?

  • I’ve found this to occur in the GMO industry as well. Seems like many of the research is skewed to reflect it is not as unhealthy, bad for the environment, dangerous, etc. as it truly is.

    Although there so much to keep up with I always do my own due diligence when it comes to “scientific research”. Thanks for sharing.

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