The power of our touch

Power of touchWhen DD Palmer called our profession “chiropractic” — combining the Greek words cheir (hand) and praxis (action) — he couldn’t have chosen a better name. While there are a few doctors who substitute mechanical devices for their hands, even those practitioners have some hands-on work with patients — palpation, adjusting or just placing the hands on affected areas.

We, and our patients, have always known that the success of chiropractic has a great deal to do with the “personal touch” we provide (metaphorically as well as literally). Surveys on patient satisfaction almost always emphasize the influence of our personal involvement with those under our care, particularly when compared to the cold, impersonal treatment received from many medical providers.

A recent research study, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and presented at the 6th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology, reinforces our understanding of the importance of true “by hand” practice, whether it’s provided by a health care practitioner or a caretaker.

Researchers found that touch — particularly massage — administered by care partners significantly reduces the effects of cancer and the side-effects from its treatment while providing comfort and improvement in the quality of life.

In the study, 97 family caregivers learned touch and massage techniques from a 78-minute instructional DVD, called “Touch, Caring, and Cancer: Simple Instruction for Family and Friends.” They then used these touch techniques to safely care for people living with cancer. “The magnitude of the impact of family members was unexpected. Our research found significant reductions of pain, anxiety, fatigue, depression and nausea when massage was routinely administered at home by family and caregivers,” lead researcher William Collinge, PhD, revealed.

The study found massage by family members reduced stress/anxiety (44% reduction), pain (34%), fatigue (32%), depression (31%), and nausea (29%).

“The discovery that family members can learn and administer simple massage techniques that can consistently reduce stress is significant. Stress is a constant that negatively impacts the lives and wellbeing of cancer patients,” Collinge wrote. “Both cancer patients and caregivers benefit because massage appears to strengthen the relationship bond. Massage provides the caregiver a way to make a difference.”

This research not only reminds us of the significance of personal touch between doctor and patient, but might be a good incentive to bring a massage therapist into your practice. The synergistic effect of the two disciplines would no doubt benefit many patients and might increase patient volume.

You may even want to provide certain patients with the video used to train the participants in the study (it’s available from I believe strongly that the “hands on” approach works for all people, regardless of the state of their health. Since it reduces stress — the primary cause of most health issues — it would be effective on most people, not just those with cancer.

Study shows non-drug techniques reduce pain in hospitalized patients

In a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety, non-medical therapies were shown to relieve pain among a wide range of hospitalized patients as much as 50 percent. However, chiropractic was not among the approaches tested. Instead, researchers focused only on acupuncture, acupressure, massage therapy, healing touch, music therapy, aromatherapy, and reflexology.

Massage TherapyThe study showed that allowing patients to have access to drug-free care that reduces stress can have a significant impact on pain major challenge and eliminate the risk of negative side effects associated with the drugs normally given to patients.

“Roughly 80 percent of patients report moderate to severe pain levels after surgery,” said Gregory Plotnikoff, MD, one of the study’s authors and medical director of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

“We struggle to provide effective pain control while trying to avoid the adverse effects of opioid medications, such as respiratory depression, nausea, constipation, dizziness, and falls.”

The study included 1,837 cardiovascular, medical, surgical, orthopedic, spine, rehabilitation, oncology, and women’s health patients between January 1, 2008, and June 30, 2009. They scored their pain verbally on a zero-to-ten scale before and after treatments.

“Earlier studies narrowly focused on whether specific integrative therapies manage pain in either cancer or surgical patients,” said Jeffery A. Dusek, PhD, research director for the George Institute. “Our real-world study broadly shows that these therapies effectively reduce pain by over 50 percent across numerous patient populations. Furthermore, they can be clinically implemented in real time, across, and under the operational and financial constraints within an acute care hospital.”

Lori Knutson, RN, BSN, HN-BC, executive director of the George Institute stated: “I think we will find that integrative approaches to pain management during the hospital stay will improve patient satisfaction and outcomes, and we will see cost savings from patients using fewer drugs and experiencing fewer adverse events.”

SOURCE: “The Impact of Integrative Medicine on Pain Management in a Tertiary Care Hospital,” March 5, 2010. Journal of Patient Safety.