Medicines and therapies are known for being able to help and heal, but did you know that the simple human touch has healing properties as well? Multiple studies published in journals like Emotion have found that touch has a beneficial effect on pain perception, treatment of disease, and emotional and physical development. It impacts brain activity by activating the area of the brain linked to feelings of reward and compassion. It also helps reduce muscle tension, which can have significant implications for stress and pain relief, as well as benefits for many other health concerns. Touch is our first language of compassion, and it continues to be an important way of spreading such positive emotions.
“Touch therapy” is the term used to describe the type of touch that is used in therapeutic massage. This type of purposeful contact is fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health. In massage, this touch influences the autonomic nervous system, relaxing an individual’s “fight or flight” response, which can help reduce stress and anxiety, even cardiovascular stress. The muscles that are massaged relax as well, reducing tension throughout the body. The two results combine to lower levels of stress hormones and increase levels of endorphins. Altogether, this translates into less pain and lower levels of stress.
These are just two of the immediate benefits of the human touch as used in therapeutic massage. Dr, Mehl-Madrona, MD, PhD, the program director at the Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, reports that touch therapy also has positive impacts on children with autism and attention deficit disorder, by helping the individuals relax, which leads to less instances of acting out. Also, Tiffany Field – a lead research in the field – found that preterm newborns that have just 15-minute sessions of touch therapy gain 47% more weight than preterm infants who received standard medical therapy. Therapeutic massage is not a pampering, self-indulgent treat only ever to be had on a vacation or a spa day. Therapeutic massage has real health benefits for multiple populations, improving quality of life from children to the elderly. A piece of these benefits can be attributed to the healing power of touch – something so simple that it is often overlooked in the modern age of biomedical interventions.