Comfort Touch

Acupressure for the ill, elderly, or anyone needing a caring touch

By Mary Kathleen Rose

Hazel never remembered my name. She often seemed confused about why I had come to her home, but once I began the hands-on bodywork session, she responded to my touch as if it were familiar. Hazel was 90 years old when her daughter first contacted me, hoping that massage could alleviate the chronic pain her mother experienced as a result of an injury and subsequent surgery to her hip.

I visited Hazel regularly in her home to give her massage. Usually, I worked with her lying face-up in her bed, making ample use of pillows to help her get comfortable. Sometimes she sat back in her reclining chair, and I pulled up a stool beside her to sit on as I worked.

I felt her sense of trust, as she smiled faintly and closed her watery blue eyes. I noticed the steady quality of her breath as she relaxed, letting go of the tension in her body.

 When I saw Hazel, I used the nurturing acupressure techniques I developed while working with hospice patients and other elderly clients in my practice years earlier. This approach has come to be called Comfort Touch—a safe, appropriate, and effective form of bodywork for use with special populations, including the elderly, and the acute and chronically ill, both in medical settings and home care.

Safe for All

Comfort Touchis a nurturing form of acupressure that promotes deep relaxation and relief from pain. For many people with compromised health, conventional massage (with gliding and kneading strokes) can cause discomfort or even injury. Fortunately, for those people with conditions such as arthritis, lymphedema, neuropathy, and fibromyalgia, Comfort Touchis not only safe, but its broad, encompassing compression is very calming to the nervous system.

Comfort Touch is appropriate for people of all ages, including infants and children, pregnant women, and people coping with a diverse range of physical and mental challenges. It is beneficial to those in the last stages of life, patients coping with dementia, and those struggling with severe, life-limiting illness.

The techniques of Comfort Touch follow six guiding principles that can be summarized by the acronym SCRIBE. Simply stated, the practitioner learns to Slow down to connect with the client, maintaining a clear intention to offer Comfort, with an attitude that is Respectful of the person being touched. Direct pressure is applied Into the Center of the part of the body being touched, with Broad, Encompassing contact. While there is an apparent simplicity to this work, the practitioner will discover deeper layers of intricacy as they respond to the individual needs of each client.

Because techniques are based on compression, oil is not used and the client can be fully clothed. This makes the work highly adaptable. In addition to being on a massage table, it is possible for the Comfort Touch recipient to be in a regular bed, hospital bed, recliner, or wheelchair.

Practioners of Comfort Touch are trained in specific techniques that take advantage of the relationship of tonic acupressure points in the body to the specific anatomy of the muscles. Primarily, these therapists apply broad compression to the bellies of the muscles, making the work soothing and noninvasive—never painful or uncomfortable.

The Power of Touch

Over the years of my practice I have been inspired by the resilient spirit I have observed with the many people who have received Comfort Touch. I have come to know that even if someone is challenged by acute or chronic illness or injury, it is possible for them to enjoy the physical and emotional benefits of touch. Relaxing and reassuring to both the body and the mind, well-intentioned and comforting touch can make a big difference in the quality of one’s sense of well-being.

Sometimes, when I visited Hazel, she would drift in and out of sleep during her Comfort Touch session. Other times she recalled stories or sang songs from her childhood. When touching her, I could feel a quality in her body’s tissues that spoke to me of her many years of hard work on the family farm. Even as I comforted her with soothing touch, I could appreciate the love and care she had provided for so many others in her long and full life.

She seldom commented on the therapy itself, but one day as I held her hand to massage it, she said, “That sure does feel good. Why, I believe I could play the piano.”

I looked at her a little surprised, and replied, “Hazel, I didn’t know you played the piano.”

She laughed. “Oh, I never could before!”


If you are interested in trying this style of bodywork, or know someone who could benefit from the gentle, nurturing nature of Comfort Touch, ask your massage therapist about their training and experience. You can also check on to find a therapist who lists Comfort Touch as a modality they practice. For more information, visit


Mary Kathleen Rose, BA, LMT, is internationally known for her work in the development of touch as a complementary therapy in medical settings. She is the author of the textbook Comfort Touch: Massage for the Elderly & the Illand Comfort Touch of the Hands & Feet: A Guide for Family Caregivers. For more information, visit