The Effect of Healing Touch on Postoperative Pain


Name: Victoria Slater

Rank: Col, USAF

Organization: University of Tennessee

Performance Site: Nashville and Clarksville, TN, Hopkinsville, KY and Belleville, IL

Year Published: 1993

Abstract Status: Final


This multi-site study report summarizes the results of a combined qualitative and quasi-experimental, counter-balanced, multi-site study designed: (1) to determine if two healing touch (HT) techniques (magnetic unruffling, and wound healing) reduce prolonged pain in post-operative patients and, if so, (2) to discover which of the three elements (a caring presence, hand movements of the techniques, and centered/meditative altered state consciousness of the practitioner) are essential to the techniques, (3) to analyze experiences of both treatment type recipients and both treatment type providers using qualitative methodology, and (4) to assess the safety of HT.The study sample consisted of 24 adults with chronic pain associated with abdominal surgery. Each subject received three separate treatments in random order: supine HT, supine sham HT (a technique control in which the same hand movements and visual cues are provided without attempting to cogitatively influence the subject's energy field), and a seated interview (placebo control where the only active factor in the treatment is a caring presence). HT treatment providers were nurses who had completed level IIA of the HT for Health Care Professionals Certificate Program. Sham HT providers and interviewers had no experience with HT. The McGill Pain Questionnaire was used to measure quantitative changes in pain, following treatment. Qualitative reports of experiences were obtained through written reports from treatment providers and audio-taped reports from recipients.The following results were reported:

  • Recipients perceived greater pain relief following HT and sham treatments than after interviews, suggesting that HT and sham effects were not simply a placebo effect based on a caring presence. HT and sham treatments were indistinguishable, suggesting that it was the hand motions without the provider's conscious involvement that contributed to the pain relief.
  • More recipients reported pain relief following HT than following sham or interview.
  • All recipients of both HT and sham treatment associated their pain relief with the provider's reported feelings of increased warmth.
  • HT was found to be safe for providers, and recipients although providers (particularly untrained sham providers) reported arm pain.

Although the data do not help identify factors responsible for pain relief, it is noted that the study does provide evidence of pain relief associated with HT, and that continued research in HT intervention is therefore warranted. The following suggestions are made for future studies: (1) evaluate the effects of resting by comparing supine HT with seated HT, (2) examine longitudinal effects of HT, (3) do a more extensive study of HT side effects, (4) test the effects on the provider of routine nursing activities involving touch, (5) compare the way in which HT providers and sham providers use touch, and (6) explore the ritualistic aspects of the placebo effect.Validation of an effective healing touch technique for relief of pain would be particularly valuable to the military, since the technique can be taught to anyone and used in remote areas.FINAL REPORT UNAVAILABLE