The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of non-contact therapeutic touch on post-surgical pain in an elderly population receiving occupational therapy in an acute care hospital unit in the United States. Ninety participants were randomly assigned to three groups (experimental, control and placebo) using a three-group experimental pre-test–post-test design and a randomized clinical trial. The experimental group received the non-contact touch intervention, the control group received routine care and the placebo group received the sound of a metronome set at a steady slow pace. Objective measures included the Memorial Pain Scale, the Tellegen Absorption Scale, the Health Attribution Scale and measures of pulse rate and pupil size, which were performed as repeated measures. In the experimental group, 22 out of 30 (73%) demonstrated a statistically significant decrease in pain intensity scores from pre-test to post-test (t  = 7.24, p < 0.01) and were better able to participate in occupations. Further research is recommended to replicate this study. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.