Miracle Touch: A Complete Guide to Hands-on Therapies That Have the Amazing Ability to Healby Debra Fulghum Bruce, Dolores Krieger
Just a decade ago, massage and other alternative touch therapies were placed in the same category as pedicures and facials: indulgent pampering treatments, but hardly serious medicine. Today, interest in touch therapy has skyrocketed, and now doctors (and even HMOs) are embracing these treatments as not only beneficial in reducing stress, but also in managing… See more details below
Just a decade ago, massage and other alternative touch therapies were placed in the same category as pedicures and facials: indulgent pampering treatments, but hardly serious medicine. Today, interest in touch therapy has skyrocketed, and now doctors (and even HMOs) are embracing these treatments as not only beneficial in reducing stress, but also in managing addictions, speeding post-surgery recovery and ending chronic pain. But while the demand for touch therapy has increased, so have the choices. Miracle Touch is a sensible guide that demystifies the wide array of therapies. For every method that's spotlighted from massage to magnet therepy here are answers to common and important questions including: What is it? How does it work? Peppered with real-life stories of people who have used these treatments with incredible results, Miracle Touch shows the tremendous impact of human touch on our health and well-being, and helps readers reap the benefits for themselves.
- Crown Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
Touch: Help, Hype, or Hoax?
Can a deep-tissue massage really end the chronic pain of migraine headache, arthritis or fibromyalgia syndrome? Will energy-based therapeutic touch help you heal from surgery faster, or ease your anxiety before dental work or other invasive procedures? And can acupuncture, acupressure, or shiatsu be effective treatment for addictions, helping to ease the withdrawal from substance abuse without the need of other heavy medications or in-patient rehabilitation programs?
These are common questions scientists are asking daily as more and more evidence of medical healing touch begins to surface. As one researcher surmised after being personally treated for carpal tunnel syndrome with acupressure, a type of Oriental massage with the fingers, "If seeing is believing, then I've experienced that touching is feeling and healing."
We Embrace Alternative Therapies
Touching is feeling and healing. Yet how many of us long for the physician's calming touch—skin upon skin—whether with a firm handshake, a compassionate pat on the back, or an assuring hand on the shoulder? Tired of assembly-line medical care where doctors spend an average of ten minutes per patient at each visit, many seek natural and effective ways to prevent, manage, or even cure diseases, using methods that are often not scientifically based. This alternative medical care is tagged "drug-free doctoring," since it views the mind and body as a totally integrated system. This means they influence each other and depend on your self-care to stay well.
The skyrocketing use of complementary medicine indicates a growing dissatisfaction with conventional or allopathic health care. Allopaths, or conventional medical doctors, define disease based on measurable symptoms and try to eliminate those signs; alternative therapists treat the whole person?body, mind, and spirit?with a focus on staying balanced and well.
Although many alternative healers, including touch-therapy practitioners, do not have medical degrees or official recognition from the American Medical Association (AMA), people are turning to these alternative therapies in droves. Why? Because they are appealing, and they offer hope, which is often the missing ingredient in the healing equation. Especially with the soaring costs of health care, alternative touch treatments, which range from massage to traditional Chinese medicine to energy-based medicine, are relatively affordable, easily accessible, and allow you to participate actively in key decisions about your health.
Proof Is Truth
While some people embrace alternative therapies, others demand proof that something works. "Show me the science," Dr. Randall Briggs, a twenty-five-year orthopedist from the Midwest, said when asked if deep-muscle massage might heal a patient's arthritic joints. Yet Briggs also admitted that at least once a week, a patient claims healing after massage therapy.
Lynn's Incredible Cure Massage Stopped the Deep Muscle Pain of Fibromyalgia
Extensive studies have shown that massage, in particular, reduces anxiety and lowers the body's production of stress hormones. That healing response gives a significant benefit to someone like thirty-nine-year-old Lynne Teague, a real estate broker from South Florida who was diagnosed with a chronic arthritis-related syndrome that causes deep muscle pain. "I went to four different doctors over a period of two years to find out what was causing the deep muscle pain and chronic fatigue," Lynne said.
"Three of the doctors told me the pain was in my head. But I knew differently. The last doctor did a series of tests and reviewed my symptoms and medical history. Then he went one step further to seek an accurate diagnosis. He carefully touched different trigger points [specific spots on the body that are painful to touch] and confirmed that I had fibromyalgia. He said there was no treatment other than to minimize the symptoms.
"I asked him about bodywork. He shrugged his shoulders, laughed, then mumbled something about needing to check on his car at the mechanic's shop. He then told me there was not much science to back up bodywork for fibromyalgia muscle pain. Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, I decided to try touch therapy anyway.
"When I went to the appointment at a nearby massage-therapy center, I was impressed at how professional everyone was. The receptionist asked me to fill out a medical history form, then one of the therapists took me in a room to give me some background. I didn't realize the therapists were licensed after taking a two-year program and undergoing twenty-two hundred hours of practical training.
"Another massage therapist took me into a small room that was painted a very soothing blue. I remember there was classical music playing in the background, and aromatherapy candles were burning near the windowsill. The therapist showed me to a dressing area where I exchanged my street clothes for a long white sheet, which I discreetly tucked around my body.
"I sat on the long table, and the therapist began to rub sweet-smelling sesame oil on my skin, then she softly kneaded my tightened muscles. Using a gentle, rocking motion, the therapist began to release tension out of my upper body and then had me lie down facing the table. Her hands worked up and down my painful trigger points. Sometimes I felt like her fingers were pointing right into my skin, but she said that's where my muscles were so tense. She focused mostly on my upper body?my neck, shoulders, and upper back?where my pain was the worst.
"After the massage, I was almost afraid to move. I was relaxed, and the pain was almost nonexistent. Finally, as I was getting dressed, I realized that the range of motion in my arms was greater and the tension in my upper body was greatly reduced. I continued receiving thirty-minute massages twice a week for six months and had greatly reduced pain and stiffness, less fatigue, and less difficulty sleeping. While my medical doctor gave me the accurate diagnosis, it was human touch that gave me a normal life again."
Touch Can Cure Symptoms and Some Diseases
Could healing touch be the new cure you've been longing for to end nagging health concerns? While some feel that a cure means complete healing of the symptoms and disease, Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, disagrees: A cure "is the course of treatment of any disease, the successful treatment of a disease or wound, a system of treating diseases, a medicine effective in treating a disease." While there are a host of diseases that baffle medical researchers, the touch therapies described in this book have worked for millions around the world to reduce or even end symptoms, without side effects.
Through comprehensive scientific research, we know that tactile stimulation is necessary for the arousal and development of various physiological systems and is fundamentally required for healthy relationships?but what about healing touch as a viable form of medical treatment? Is it hype, hoax, or actual healing? Granted, it feels comforting to be touched. Who doesn't benefit from a friend's warm hug, a pat on the back for a job well done, or a newborn baby nestled on your neck? But can human touch actually bring about physiological changes in the body that we associate with healing? Yes! We also know the opposite is true—a touchless society can lead to failure to thrive and even death in newborn babies.
"No Touch" Leads to Failure to Thrive
The perils of a touchless society became apparent in the early 1900s, when Dr. Luther Emmett Holt, known as one of America's first and finest pediatricians, decided that parents were spoiling their children by cuddling and holding them too much. Good parents took notice and immediately followed his order, beginning a trend of hands-off parenting. Within just a few years, doctors across the nation started to notice a dramatic increase in infant deaths?particularly in seemingly healthy babies. It soon became apparent that these infants failed to thrive simply because they were not getting enough human contact. There are hosts of studies concluding that infants who suffered from touch deprivation in orphanges achieved only half of the height normal for their age.
In touch studies done on animals, monkey infants who were denied contact—a "secure base"—ceased to explore their environments. Research in animal behavior also reveals that when animals are deprived of touch, they become aggressive and violent.
Touch Boosts Preemie Growth
We have come a long way in understanding the importance of touch with human development. In support of touch boosting immune system function, a host of researchers have reported decreased cortisol, and increased numbers and activity of natural killer-cell activity following massage therapy. Natural killer cells are immune-system cells that are important in killing virus-infected cells and cancer cells. For children with chronic diseases, touch can alleviate symptoms and let them live a more normal life. In fact, researchers say fifteen minutes of massage a day can help a diabetic child's glucose levels remain in the normal range and improve an asthmatic child's pulmonary functions.
Touch Influences Emotional Development
Further studies show a strong link between touch and emotional development. Infants of the Netsilik Inuit tribe of the Canadian Arctic are very calm and cry very little. This is thought to be because they are almost constantly carried on their mothers' backs and can communicate with them through touch. In one study done at the Child Development Program at Montreal Children's Hospital, researchers asked volunteer mothers to carry their babies for at least three hours a day. They then compared the babies' crying patterns with those of a group who weren't carried. The babies who were held more cried less.
A Touchphobic Society
Although touch allows us to unwind and heal our inner spirit, confusion surrounds its curative powers. Some people shy away from this centuries-old healing modality, especially Americans, who, unlike the rest of the world, have been reared to avoid touch, fearing that it's "sleazy" and will encroach on another's private space.
"Disrobe before a stranger just to get a massage? I don't think so." Forty-nine-year-old Miranda Peters from Nashville, Tennessee, says what many still believe—touch from a stranger is too intimate and often quite intimidating. Phyllis Davis, a licensed professional counselor, says that most Americans have an eighteen-inch boundary separating them from another person. In a two-person conversation, if one participant moves closer to the other, he or she immediately responds by backing away. In a revealing study, researchers observed couples in cafés and restaurants across the globe and tallied the following dismal (if you are an American) results:
• Puerto Ricans touch an average of 180 times per hour.
• The French touch 110 times per hour.
• Americans touch 2 times an hour.
In another key study reported in Adolescence (Winter 1999), Dr. Tiffany Fields and the Touch Research Institute, along with researchers from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, observed forty adolescents at McDonald's restaurants in Paris, France, and Miami, Florida, to assess the amount of touching and aggression during their peer interactions. The scientists noted that the American teenagers spent less time leaning against, stroking, and hugging their peers than did the French adolescents. Researchers observed that the American teens showed more self-touching and more aggressive verbal and physical behavior.
Hippocrates Affirmed Touch As a Healing Modality
If people claim healing from various hands-on therapies, then why is touch so avoided in our high-tech society that prides itself in seeking the best of all healing traditions? After all, it was Hippocrates (around 460 b.c.) who described the healing power of the "force that flows from many people's hands." The father of medicine also wrote: "The physician must be experienced in many things, but most assuredly in rubbing" (the Greek and Roman term for massage).
For centuries, physicians' hands were their most important diagnostic and therapeutic tools. Today, however, most conventional medical practitioners refrain from physical contact with the patient and lean toward diagnostic equipment because of legal and time variables. As one medical doctor said, "There is just no scientific substantiation that rubbing a back will completely halt the pain caused by a pulled muscle, joint pain, or herniated disk. Besides, I would face malpractice if I touched someone and she felt it was inappropriate."
But isn't the skin a vital part of the body—a part that must be felt to check on its health? Some experts claim that of all the senses to lose, the sense of touch is the most precious. After all, the skin is your body's largest sense organ, and all forms of touch are perceived through the skin. While other senses—hearing, smell, sight, and taste—diminish with age, the need for touch actually increases.
As the body's outer covering, your skin protects you against heat, light, injury, and infection and is sensitive to many different kinds of stimuli, such as pain, pressure, temperature, and joint and muscle position sense (called proprioception). The skin regulates your body temperature and stores water, fat, and vitamin D.
Your sense of touch originates in the bottom layer of the skin, or the dermis. The dermis is filled with many tiny nerve endings that give you information about the things with which your body comes in contact. Your body has about twenty different nerve endings in the skin, which tell you if something is hot, cold, or going to hurt you. The nerve endings convey this information to the brain and spinal cord, also known as the central nervous system (CNS), to areas where we perceive the stimuli. To accomplish this, the nerve endings of the sensory receptors convert mechanical, thermal, or chemical energy into electrical signals.
Roots in Human Embryological Development
Neurologically, among the earliest nerve tracts to develop in the human embryo is the spinothalamic, which conveys information to the brain about touch and pain. The spinothalamic nerve tract is protected and made highly efficient by an insulation of fatty myelin tissue that enfolds the tract as a sheath. As the limbs develop and tiny hands find primitive mouth, an active sucking reflex can be seen in early sonographs of the growing fetus. When the fetus comes to term, it experiences repeated cutaneous stimulations during the descent of the birth canal. Once the baby is born, its further developmental stages derive from a series of touch experiences: Very soon after birth, the baby brings whatever is near to her mouth as she starts to explore her personal environment. At about three months of age, she begins to look at her own hand, an important step in eye-hand coordination. With time, her eye-hand coordination reflexes mature, and she can reach out with mindful purpose and make that world her own.
Meet the Author
DEBRA FULGHUM BRUCE is a medical writer and author of sixty books on health and wellness, including The Sinus Cure and The Fibromyalgia Handbook.
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