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Tired of Reaching for the Painkillers - Discover the Healing Power of Touch

by Harry Dalford and Julie Kingston(more info)

listed in trager, originally published in issue 165 - December 2009

Julie Kingston and Harry Dalford work with commercial organisations to promote staff wellness and also on hospital wards, and health centres bringing Trager self care and touch.

healing technique

We recently attended a course in the M technique devised by a Macmillan nurse for use with terminally ill cancer patients. We were struck by a statement made during the M technique course that the nurse had found that patients associated nursing with pain rather than caring. So many hospital procedures are painful and intrusive and budget pressures mean that nurses and doctors rarely have time to spend more than a few moments with their patients and these are often spent causing the patient a degree of discomfort. She devised this hands-on technique to put the care back into nursing

The modern health service has become very 'hands off' with diagnostics by machine and highly pressurised staff having little time to spend with patients. Fear of the consequences of touch, either because of unwanted sexual connotations or contamination, has left the health service to rely largely on pharmaceuticals to relieve pain or perhaps a time limited number of physiotherapy appointments and exercises.

However we have an increasing number of clients that cannot tolerate painkillers because of allergies, stomach and digestive problems, plus side effects of the actual medications, which include nausea and dizziness. Their pain is frightening and debilitating and often chronic in nature, and this is true for a large number of members of the public.

So is it time for the health service and the patients to reconsider the therapeutic possibilities of touch therapies? Where is the evidence I hear you cry! Actually vets and zoo keepers have long known the restorative and curative power of touch, which is why when an animal is sick or injured its keeper or carer is often close by giving physical comfort and prepared to spend the night with his/her charge.

There has been considerable research into touch and its benefits, including studies that have shown that babies in neo natal units thrive better and gain weight better when touched regularly, post operative patients that received massage healed quicker, people that received touch showed positive immune responses and the lonely and isolated people get ill more often, and feel pain more acutely. I am sure if you look in the PH research archives you will find many more studies.

Trager instructor and author of Job's body – a handbook for bodyworkers and Touched by the Goddess – The physical, Psychological and Spiritual Power of body work, talks about touch as food and he was surprised to read several studies that showed no infant mammal including humans can survive for long without tactile input, even if other needs are met.

An investigation into Orphanages where the infants received little tactile stimulation showed exceedingly high infant mortality rates – it is called 'Failure to Thrive'. Also, studies into children that have little positive human contact have shown that growth is stunted (deprivation dwarfism), and physical distortions have taken place, leading researchers to conclude that touch is essential to the successful expression of genes. In fact, touch seems to be hardwired into our brains and positive gentle contact seems to have an effect on many levels and different systems within the body. It has become accepted by many researchers in this area that touch is vital for wellbeing and health, and yet in western medicine, it is still little regarded.

Dr David Eisenberg MD, Harvard Medical School investigated the Chinese medical system some years ago, and comments that in China masseurs train for 10 years and have the same status as Doctors, and you are as likely to be referred to a masseur in a hospital as to other types of medical consultants. Massage is considered and essential and curative part of their health service.

In the UK many therapists work on a voluntary basis in hospitals and hospices and are appreciated by both patients and providers, but rarely are they paid for their services, making access very limited.


Our own experience of dealing with clients with pain using the Trager Approach has been very positive. In the Trager Approach we encourage feedback and encourage our clients to let us know if something is too much or not enough. We had a client with advanced terminal breast cancer and she was intolerant to pain killers. She has been reluctant to undergo a mastectomy and had wanted to find alternative possibilities, but sadly the cancer spread and her breast fungated. This is where the tumour erupts through the skin, leading to bleeding and infection, often leading to rotting of the surrounding tissue. The breast was very painful and as the smell was unpleasant, she found it embarrassing for her relatives and nurses changing the dressings. Also, as this is a rarely seen condition these days, she found some of the medical staff seemed judgemental and critical of the choices she had made regarding her treatment. Together we went on a journey of discovery learning how the lightest of touches could bring relief and comfort from the pain, and that other areas of her body welcomed the chance to relax and enjoy being touched in a way that brought pleasure rather than pain. This lady taught us so much about tuning in and listening with our hands and the physical and emotional comfort that touch can bring to people in frightening and painful conditions.

We have also worked with a number of clients with conditions such ME, Fibromyalgia and severe arthritis, where there is chronic and long term pain. Again using the gentlest of touches, gentle movement of joints and lifting muscles can bring relief from stiffness and pain, allowing the body to remember what pleasure feels like. Our clients often say they sleep well after a Trager session and feel the benefit for some days. It is also important for them to feel a sense of partnership, rather than being done to.

Touch is also important in the treatment of psychological distress, as often muscles are held so tightly that the person has forgotten what relaxed feels like. Teaching someone to let go of the physical symptoms of stress and to rediscover the nurturing nature of touch is very rewarding. Even more rewarding is helping them to find ways of helping themselves. The benefits of having someone listen and taken notice of your pain are immeasurable, and often bodyworkers are skilled in bringing relief from injuries, sprains and strains as well as more long term illnesses.

NICE are beginning to recognize, very slowly, the value of some complementary therapies. Some private hospitals are now prescribing therapies to alleviate pain and anxiety. There is no funding available for large scale trials, as there is in the pharmaceutical industry, so full integration into health services is unlikely to come without patient demand and Doctors recognizing that there are financial benefits as well as health benefits involved in prescribing human touch rather than a bottle of pills. Until that time why not see what touch therapies might be available to help you manage your pain and you might be surprised at the many benefits they can bring for relatively little investment.

It would be lovely to see the caring put back into health care and allow the Doctors and nurses that work so hard not be stretched to the limit and have an alternative to offer patients. Even better to see more prevention of illness and promotion of wellbeing by allowing people access at work as well as at the surgery.

Deep down we all instinctively know the power of touch to make us feel better, a gentle rub on a sore spot, a hug when things are too much. We are sensual beings with bodies and minds hardwired to recognize pleasurable touch is preferable to pain from the moment we are born. Let's hope that touch therapies become a real main stream alternative to the bottle of pills and in the meantime seek out your local practitioners.


Juhan Deane, Touched by the Goddess, The Psychological and Spiritual Powers of Bodywork, 2002 Barrytown/Station Hill press New York
Juhan Deane, Job's Body A handbook for Body Work, 2003 Barrytown/Station Hill press New York
Moyers Bill, Healing and the Mind, 1993 Thorsons and Harper Collins Publishers London.


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About Harry Dalford and Julie Kingston

Harry Dalford BEng(Hons) IPTI LTP is a former Paratrooper, sky-diver, skin-diver and rock-climber who practises and teaches Aikido. He is a self-employed, Engineer/Surveyor/Builder and practises Trager in the self-built studio he shares with his partner of 15 years Julie Kingston. He is the current Chairman of Trager UK, and is also the Trager UK Newsletter Writer/Editor. He may be contacted via Tel: 01483 894741;            

Julie Kingston BA(Hons) LTP BWY MIPTI MICHT IHHT VTCT became a British Wheel of Yoga Teacher in 1993, went on to study CranioSacral Therapy, Life Coaching, Indian Head Massage and Swedish Massage.  She has two grown-up children and practices Trager and other therapies in her home studio. She is also a partner in a drumming company, Drumheads Live organizing community, education and corporate djembe drumming events. She is currently UK representative and the Trager International vice president on the Council of Trustees of Trager International, and has also served on the TUK Board of Directors. She may be contacted via Tel: 01483 894741;

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