Warning on power in `healing hands'

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The Independent Online
HEALERS who treat patients with a simple touch of their hands are wielding a more powerful tool than the medical establishment has recognised. Unpublished research carried out at two British hospitals suggests that "healing hands" have a real therapeutic impact and should be used with care.

The surprising results of a study into the use of reflexology on patients in a neurological ward and another into giving specialised massage to premature babies were both presented at a Royal College of Nursing conference in York on Friday.

Tests carried out on 43 patients in a major trauma centre revealed that reflexology - the massaging of very specific "pressure points" on the feet - can alter the physiological state of a patient, and not necessarily for the better. "When pressure was applied to the arch of the foot, we found that there was a significant drop in the heart rate, the blood pressure and the respiratory rate," said Carol Cox, an intensive-care nurse at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London. Intensive-care nursing, she explained, is particularly concerned with maintaining blood pressure,so "this kind of foot massage has to be questioned as it relates to treatment in a special unit".

But Mrs Cox went on to stress that tests on 53 other neurological patients suggested that there were benefits, and no risks, involved in other, less focused, techniques such as general massage and manipulation, which seemed to "promote rest and have no negative effects".

Research carried out on premature babies in Wolverhampton was also presented to the conference. This study found that treatment of babies using a touch technique called "tac-tic" seemed to ease the trauma of being born early. Mrs Cox said the babies seemed "more relaxed, and there was less movement".