When pain is experienced, an individual tends to touch that sore body part. Touch can relieve pain; however, the underlying mechanisms of touch in relieving pain are not clear.
Pain is defined as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience arising from actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage”.1
Surprisingly, the neurophysiologic and psychophysical investigations of analgesic effect (pain relief) of touch in humans have suggested that pain has controlling influences that occur at supraspinal levels (i.e. a region above the spinal cord).2
“Social bonding and soothing behaviors mitigate the destructive effects of negative environmental events and promote enhanced health and well-being.” 3
A functional magnetic resonance imaging study published in the Journal of Psychological Science investigated the social regulation of the neural response to pain. Sixteen married women were subjected to pain (electric shock within the safe range) under 3 different circumstances: (1) holding their husband’s hand, (2) an anonymous male experimenter’s hand, or (3) no hand at all. The participants were warned by a safety cue, followed by an anticipation period that enabled them to focus their attention on the hand holding. The shock was delivered at the end of the anticipation period. The MRI results showed a decrease of perceived pain in the neural systems when the women held the hand of their husband or stranger. Unsurprisingly more pain reduction when holding their husband’s hand versus the stranger’s hand.4
Interestingly, a study published in the Psychological Bulletin reported that “married people tend on average to be happier and healthier than unmarried people.” 5
Single people can be happier than most people provided that they have the right amount of support from family and friends. We are not created to live alone, hidden in a remote location.
The emotional & physical benefit of therapeutic touch:
- Reduce chronic pain & anxiety in an elderly population6
- Increasing pain relief as an adjunct to analgesic medication7
- Improve quality of sleep8
- Decrease depressive attitudes and symptoms8
“There are no identified risks to Therapeutic Touch, so it is safe to recommend the use of Therapeutic Touch as a pain relief measure despite the limitations of the research.” 9
Therapeutic touch as simple as platonic holding hands, hugging, or even spending quality time with friends and family should be considered in adjunct to other nursing interventions for the treatment of pain. 9
Live long, happy, healthy lives…hug more often!
Happy HUGentines to all of you wonderful humans!!
1.Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS) (2013). The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition (beta version). Cephalalgia;33(9),629-808.
2.Inui K, Tsuji T, Kakigi R. Temporal analysis of cortical mechanisms for pain relief by tactile stimuli in humans. Cereb Cortex 2006;16:355–65.
3.Berscheid, E. (2003). The human’s greatest strength: Other humans. In U.M. Staudinger (Ed.), A psychology of human strengths: Fundamental questions and future directions for a positive psychology (pp. 37–47). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
4.Coan JA, Schaefer HS, Davidson RJ (2006). Lending a Hand: Social Regulation of the Neural Response to Threat. Psychological Science;17(12),1032 – 1039.
5.Wood, W., Rhodes, N., & Whelan, M. (1989). Sex differences in positive well-being: A consideration of emotional style and marital status. Psychological Bulletin, 106, 249–264.
6..Lin, Y. S., & Taylor, A. G. (1998). Effects of Therapeutic Touch in reducing pain and anxiety in an elderly population. Integrative Medicine, 1, 155-162.
7.Turner, J. G., Clark, A. J., Gauthier, D., & Williams, M. (1998). The effect of Therapeutic Touch on pain and anxiety in burn patients. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 28(1), 10-20.
8.Marta, IE, Baldan, SS, Berton, AF, Pavam, M, da Silva, MJ (2010), [The effectiveness of therapeutic touch on pain, depression and sleep in patients with chronic pain: clinical trial]. Rev Esc Enferm USP;44(4):1100-6.
9.Monroe, C. M. (2009). The effects of therapeutic touch on pain. J Holist Nurs;27(2),85-92.