One of the peculiarities I love most of my profession is the hands-on skin I use to diagnose and treat people.

But what is touch? Is it powerful in healthcare? Let’s get into the topic and analyse some of the most important aspects that make TOUCH significantly effective.

Touch as a fundamental human need, from the beginning.

Early research on monkeys that were deprived of actual physical comfort from their mothers gave us a tremendous amount of insight into why touch is so important.

Infant monkeys that had direct contact with their mothers grew up to be friendly, patient, social, happy, and physically healthier than baby monkeys who were provided with indirect sustenance such as bottled milk, but no direct physical affection and comfort from their mothers. The second set of babies who were denied physical touch and affection grew up to be isolated, lonely, depressed, withdrawn, unhappy, and in many cases highly aggressive.

Scientists have learned that the optimum speed of a human caress is 3cm to 5cm a second. Recently, researchers from University College London showed that slow, gentle stroking by a stranger reduced feeling of social exclusion.

What happens within your body when you are touched?

Our sense of touch has vital functions for our psychological and physical well-being.

Being touched increases the number of natural killer cells, the front line of the immune system. Serotonin increases. That’s the body’s natural antidepressant. It enables deeper sleep.

The 5 proven ways through which manual therapy and touch are effective:

  • Analgesic modulation: the pain killer effect of touch, that modulates the information coming from nerves.
  • Affective response: deactivation of stressful response to threat systems, activation of wellbeing and relaxation pathways (opioids, oxytocin and dopaminergic)
  • Physical properties: reorganise the body’s mental representation, enhancing the sense of body ownership and awareness (these can both positively affect pain experience)
  • Emotional properties: empathy, kindness, affectivity and reassurance all provide benefits to your body’s systems.

When you are touching someone’s skin, you are actually touching their brain. – Diane Jacobs

By Emanuele Calabrese

Consultant Osteopath and Head of Rehabilitation at RRMG