Touch and manipulation with the hands have been in use in health and medical practice since the beginning of medical care. Whether in comforting a child by stroking or rubbing a body stiffened by the cold, touch was the first and foremost of all diagnostic and therapeutic devices. Hippocrates discussed the benefits of therapeutic massage and instructed his students in its use and in spinal manipulation. The Chinese also included massage in its ancient healing practices and touch in its diagnostic methods (see "Alternative Systems of Medicine" chapter); the practitioner's taking of the pulse with the fingertips was considered to be the most important diagnostic tool of the ancient Chinese physician (Veith, 1949). Entire healing systems of touch based on the meridian system (see the glossary) were developed centuries ago and remain in use today in the United States as well as in Asia.
The hands once were the physician's greatest and most important diagnostic and therapeutic tool. Today the medical and health practitioner retreats further and further from physical contact with the patient, ever more distanced by banks of diagnostic equipment, legal ~constraints, and time factors. Psychotherapists are admonished not to touch their clients, and the price of medical doctors' time is now so high that they cannot even massage the stiffness from a patient's back; instead, the doctor or psychotherapist must write a prescription for a massage therapist, a person with therapeutic skills no longer taught in medical schools. It is skills of this type--ancient traditional healing skills that are now called "alternative"--that this chapter addresses.
All the manual healing methods addressed in this chapter rely on the practitioner's hands as a primary modality both to access information from (that is, to diagnose) and to treat the patient. Nevertheless, many manual healing methods are highly individualized; there is much art in this field, much individualization. Many practitioners have developed unique systems, in some cases teaching them to others. Consequently, there are many more systems than can be discussed here; no slight is intended by the omissions.
This chapter is divided into four sections. The first discusses methods that use physical touch, pressure, and movement. The second discusses those that are described as using a ~biofield, or "energy." Therapies that appear to rely on both physical and biofield elements are described in the third section. The fourth section illustrates how manual healing methods are becoming included in mainstream health care. Recommendations and references follow at the end.