Four therapies using the Human Power of Touch

These four hands-on therapies can ease your stress, anxiety, pain, and more. Read on to find the best remedy for you.

For Emotional Healing: Body Psychotherapy

What it is: This form of therapy combines touch, movement, breathing techniques and exercises to raise your awareness of sensations in your body, which can help you identify and resolve damaging emotional issues. There are more than 40 kinds of body psychotherapy ranging from bio energetics, which focuses on muscle constrictions and their relationship to emotional expression, movement, breath and posture; to core energetics, which uses specific movements to encourage the expression of difficult emotions; to the Rubenfeld Synergy Method, which relies on gentle touch and talk to release repressed tension and emotions. Body psychotherapy can be used alone or together with talk therapy.

Why try it? You might see a body psychotherapist if you’ve got a persistent case of the blues; to help you cope during a troubled time, such as a death in your family, or to deal with the effects of a past trauma, like being the victim of a crime.

To find a body psychotherapy practitioner, log on to the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy website at usabp.org. Insurance may cover part of the cost if your practitioner is licensed. Read more.

For Easing Your Pain: Physical Therapy

 What it is: After an injury or illness, physical therapy (PT) can help you learn better ways to stand, walk and move. Sessions may include loosening specific joints, working the soft tissue around joints and offering guidance about proper movement patterns.

Why try it? Physical therapy treats and prevents a wide variety of conditions, including lower-back pain and problems resulting from accidents, surgery, or sports injuries. One recent study found that those who did PT following breast cancer surgery had significantly less pain, improved shoulder function and better quality of life than those who only received a leaflet with exercises to do at home. You could also see a physical therapist if you haven’t exercised regularly – or not for a long time – and are considering a fitness program and want to ward off injuries.

To find a physical therapist, try the American Physical Therapy Association site at apta.org. Most PT sessions are covered by insurance.

For Taming Stress: Massage Therapy

What it is: You probably already know that it’s the perfect way to pamper your stressed-out self. But massage can be much more than an indulgence. Neuromuscular massage, for instance – the most common type of therapeutic deep-tissue massage –uses pressure on particular points in the fascia (the fibrous connective tissue that surrounds the muscles) to treat specific injuries or chronic pain. Ordinary massage therapy ultimately works by stimulating pressure receptors under the skin, which increases the vagal nerve activity in the brain, thereby boosting serotonin (the feel-good, anti-pain neurotransmitter) and lowering cortisol, the stress hormone that takes a heavy toll on your defenses against disease.

Why try it? In more than 100 studies over the last 15 years on the effects of massage, the Touch Research Institute found that it can ease pain, improve function of the immune system, decrease auto-immune problems such as lupus and arthritis, enhance alertness, and possibly even lessen your risk for heart disease. One study found that receiving regular massages can help lower blood pressure, anxiety and stress hormones in those with hypertension. Massage therapy can even curb migraine headaches.

Adults with migraines who received twice-weekly, 30-minute massages for five consecutive weeks reported more headache-free days and fewer problems sleeping than a control group that didn’t receive massages, according to a study. Massage also reduced the number of weekly headaches in chronic-headache sufferers, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

To find a massage therapist, log on to the websites of the American Massage Therapy Association (amtamassage.org) or the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (massagetherapy.com). Some insurance companies are starting to cover it if it is prescribed by a doctor for a medical reason.

For Treating Your Illness or Injury: Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment

What it is: An osteopathic physician (also known as a doctor of osteopathic medicine, or D.O.) relies on his or her hands to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness and injury. The D.O. moves muscles and joints with stretching, gentle pressure, and resistance (where the doctor applies pressure to a joint or tissue, then asks the patient to press that part of the body against his hand). Unlike other forms of bodywork, such as chiropractic therapy, which focuses on the relationship between the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) treats the whole body by stimulating nerve centers to improve health and blood circulation.

Why try it? OMT can be used for routine health care (such as the type you’d receive from a primary care physician), but is also practiced in specialties ranging from obstetrics and gynecology to cardiology. If you see a D.O. for a possible sinus infection, for example, he’ll not only examine your eyes, ears, nose, and throat and possibly prescribe an antibiotic for infection, but he’ll also ask you to lie down while he presses spots on your upper back, neck and head. He’ll look for areas of tenderness, muscle knots, and motion restriction, and treat any issues he finds using his hands.

This technique can help give a boost to your lymphatic system (tissues and organs that produce, store, and carry cells to fight infection). How it does so: Gentle pressure to certain points improves circulation in the mucous membranes involved, which causes draining and decongestion, just like taking a decongestant pill, says Kurt Heinking, D.O., chairman of the department of osteopathic manipulative medicine at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. By encouraging the sinuses to drain, OMT helps the antibiotic beat back infection.

To find a D.O., visit the American Osteopathic Association’s database at osteopathic.org/directory.cfm. A D.O. visit is typically covered by insurance.