Distant healing of surgical wounds: an exploratory study

Explore (NY). 2012 Jul-Aug;8(4):223-30. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2012.04.004.


Background: Distant healing intention (DHI) is one of the most common complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) healing modalities, but clinical trials to date have provided ambivalent support for its efficacy. One possible reason is that DHI effects may involve variables that are sensitive to unknown, uncontrolled, or uncontrollable factors.

Objective: To examine 2 of those potential variables-expectation and belief-we explored the effects of DHI on objective and psychosocial measures associated with surgical wounds in 72 women undergoing plastic surgery.

Design: Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups: blinded and receiving DHI (DH), blinded and not receiving DHI (control), and knowing that they were receiving DHI (expectancy). Outcome measures included collagen deposition in a surrogate wound and several self-report measures. DHI was provided by experienced distant healers. No differences in the main measures were observed across the three groups.

Results: Participants' previous belief in the efficacy of DHI was negatively correlated with the status of their mental health at the end of the study (P = .04, 2-tailed), and healers' perceptions of the quality of their subjective "contact" with the participants were negatively correlated both with change in mood (P = .001) and with collagen deposition (P = .04). A post-hoc analysis found that among participants assigned to receive DHI under blinded conditions, those undergoing reconstructive surgery after breast cancer treatment reported significantly better change in mood than those who were undergoing purely elective cosmetic surgery (P = .004).

Conclusion: If future DHI experiments confirm the post-hoc observations, then some of the ambiguity observed in earlier DHI studies may be attributable to interactions among participants' and healers' beliefs, their expectations, and their motivations.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Complementary Therapies*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Culture
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception*
  • Postoperative Complications / psychology*
  • Postoperative Complications / therapy
  • Research Design
  • Self Report
  • Surgery, Plastic / psychology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Trust*
  • Wound Healing*
  • Wounds and Injuries / therapy


  • Collagen