Massage therapy reduced neurological complications and increased patients’ perception of the benefits of therapy following a bone marrow transplant. Both massage therapy and Therapeutic Touch® significantly increased patients’ comfort after the bone marrow transplant, according to a recent study.

“Outcomes of Touch Therapies During Bone Marrow Transplant” was conducted by Marlaine Smith, R.N., Ph.D., and Francelyn Reeder, R.N., Ph.D., of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center School of Nursing; Linda Daniel, R.N., Ph.D.; Julaluk Baramee, R.N., Ph.D.; and Jan Hagman, R.N., clinic coordinator of the Outpatient Bone Marrow Transplant Unit of the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver.

Participants were patients 18-70 years old who received either an autologous or allogeneic bone marrow transplant (BMT), mostly for breast cancer or lymphoma, but also for leukemias. An autologous BMT involves the collection of the patient’s own bone marrow, which is frozen and reinfused; an allogeneic BMT is the transplantation of another person’s marrow.

The sample population of 61 patients was stratified and randomly assigned to one of three treatments: massage therapy, Therapeutic Touch, or a control group called the friendly visit.

Subjects in the massage-therapy group received a 30-minute, standardized Swedish massage. Those in the Therapeutic Touch group received a half-hour, standard session, which consisted of conscious energy exchange using the hands as a focus for facilitating healing. Subjects in the friendly visit group spent 30 minutes engaged in social conversation.

Three outcome variables were measured to assess the effects of touch therapies on people who undergo BMTs: time for engraftment, which occurs when newly infused blood-forming cells begin producing blood; complications during treatment, which involved the measurement of 11 specific functions such as food intake, central nervous system/neurological, cardiac and circulation; and patients’ perception of the benefit of therapy, which involved a survey asking subjects to rate the degree of feelings such as support, comfort, well-being, pain and anxiety.

In the assessment of complications, researchers found that subjects in the massage-therapy group had significantly lower scores for central nervous system or neurological complications, such as disorientation, agitation, anxiety, numbness, headache and insomnia.

“This diminishing effect on neurological complications is important in enhancing the quality of life during BMT,” state the study’s authors. “Massage-therapy patients may be able to rest more easily, communicate with their family members, and feel less depressed and anxious during this critical time.”

No statistical differences were found among the three groups for time for engraftment. Participants in the massage-therapy group perceived that they received significantly greater benefits from the therapy than those in the friendly visit group. Subjects in both the massage-therapy and the Therapeutic Touch group had comfort scores significantly higher than subjects in the friendly visit group.

Source: University of Colorado Health Sciences Center School of Nursing and Hospital in Denver. Authors: Marlaine Smith, R.N., Ph.D.; Francelyn Reeder, R.N., Ph.D.; Linda Daniel, R.N., Ph.D.; Julaluk Baramee, R.N., Ph.D.; and Jan Hagman, R.N. Originally published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, January/February 2003, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 40-49.