The Health Benefits of Physical Touch

By Margaret Chuong-Kim
DrBenKim.com

A close friend of mine mentioned to me the other day that when she and her husband first married, one of the activities she enjoyed most was having him rub her feet in the evenings while they chatted about their day. She really loved feeling the warmth of his hands and the pressure on her skin, as well as spending the time with him. She enjoyed this activity to the point where, when she’d see him in the evenings, she would clear her throat and wiggle her toes at him as a way of asking for another foot massage.

My friend lamented that, in recent weeks, due to an increase in the busyness in their days, she and her husband haven’t had the time or energy to spend as much leisure time together. As a result, she hasn’t been getting any foot rubs. She stated she’s been feeling a bit grumpy and she thinks part of it has to do with the absence of these regular foot massages.

Perhaps you think this is a silly claim, that the absence of regular touch can have an effect on one’s emotions. However, touch and the social contact with a loved one which accompanies it are an important part of our physical and emotional health.

Consider the following:

  • Skin-to-skin contact between mother and infant has been shown to benefit the baby’s physical development and contributes to a positive attachment relationship between the two. The practice of placing a diaper-clad infant skin-to-skin on the mother is so beneficial that it is now an intervention strategy for premature babies in neonatal intensive care units worldwide.

  • A group of Korean infants under the care of an orphanage were provided with an extra 15 minutes of stimulation twice a day, 5 days a week, for 4 weeks. The additional stimulation consisted of auditory (female voice), tactile (massage), and visual (eye-to-eye contact). Compared to the infants who only received regular care, the stimulated orphans gained significantly more weight and had larger increases in body length and head circumference after the 4 week intervention period, as well as at 6 months of age. In addition, the stimulated infants had fewer illnesses and clinic visits.

  • Gentle touch has been shown to facilitate physical and psychological functioning, particularly in terms of reducing stress, relieving pain, increasing the ability to cope, and general health ratings.

  • Participants in a study examining the effectiveness of therapeutic touch as a treatment for managing pain due to fibromyalgia experienced a significant decrease in pain and reported a significant improvement in quality of life.

  • The majority of nursing home residents suffering from dementia like Alzheimer’s disease develop behavioural symptoms of dementia, such as restlessness, searching and wandering, tapping and banging, pacing and walking, and vocalization. Current treatment involves drugs, but a recent study showed that intervention consisting of therapeutic touch significantly reduces these behavioural symptoms. Impressive is that the therapeutic touch employed in the study was only provided twice per day, for three days. Each therapeutic intervention lasted only 5-7 minutes.

Cleary, the importance of touch cannot be underestimated. Applying this knowledge in your closest relationships can make all the difference with your health.

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References
Browne, J. (2004). Early relationship environments: physiology of skin-to-skin contact for parents and their preterm infants. Clinics In Perinatology, 31(2): 287-98.

Denison, B. (2004). Touch the pain away: new research on therapeutic touch and persons with fibromyalgia syndrome. Holistic Nursing Practice, 18(3): 142-51.

Kim, T., Shin, Y., & White-Traut, R. (2003). Multisensory intervention improves physical growth and illness rates in Korean orphaned newborn infants. Research In Nursing And Health, 26(6): 424-33.

Weze, C., et al. (2005). Evaluation of healing by gentle touch. Public Health, 119(1): 3-10.

Wood, D., Craven, R., & Whitney, J. (2005). The effect of therapeutic touch on behavioral symptoms of persons with dementia. Alternative Therapies In Health And Medicine, 11(1): 66-74.

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