The Healing Power of Touch

Touch is the first sense we acquire.  As humans, we have an innate ability to communicate through touch, both receptively and expressively.  Touch seems to be a language that we take for granted and is a powerful tool for many successful relationships.  It may be a more versatile form of communication than voice, facial expressions or other means of communication.  When touch is combined with another form of communication, a voice, for instance, speeds the message being implied. Or at times, touch may simply take the place of voice communication.

What can the power of touch do?

  • Newborns that are given nurturing touch grow faster and have more improved mental and motor skill development. A mother’s touch signifies security.  Tiffany Field, director of the University of Miami School of Medicine, did extensive research on the power of touch through massage.  She found that infants who were massaged on a regular basis slept better, had reduced irritability, improved immune function, digestion, and social skills. She also saw dramatic results in improved growth, weight gain, and development of preemies.
  • Children raised with more physical interaction tended to be less aggressive and violent.
  • Partners who cuddle have been shown to have lower stress levels and blood pressure and improved immune function.
  • Elderly people who receive the soothing, affirming experience of touch have been shown to better handle the process of aging and passing with dignity.

Touch helps to release the hormone oxytocin, which helps to enhance a sense of trust and attachment.  This also helps to explain why we self-caress multiple times each day, from self-hugging to rubbing our neck or forehead, it provides a calming effect.  Self-massage has been shown to slow heart rate and lower the level of the stress hormone of cortisol.

These same physiological benefits are reciprocal. You cannot touch without being touched.  Those who initiate touch, often reap the same benefits as those who are being touched.  Tiffany Field’s research revealed that a person giving massage experiences as great a reduction in stress hormones as the person on the receiving end.  “Studies have shown that a person giving a hug gets just as much benefit as a person being hugged”, Field says.  Touch then is a powerful tool not only for communication but for healing the body and balancing the soul. 

Massage therapy dates back thousands of years and has been utilized for many medical and emotional conditions, as well as assisting women during labor and delivery. Unfortunately, there are still some today that view massage merely as a luxury, but there are too many benefits to ignore.  Studies have shown that massage can:

1) Dilate the blood vessels, which improves circulation and relieves congestion throughout the body.

2) Increase the number of red blood cells, especially in cases of anemia.

3) Act as a “mechanical cleanser”, stimulating lymph circulation and hastening the elimination of wastes and toxic debris.

4) Relax muscle spasms and relieve tension.

5) Increase blood supply and nutrition to muscles without adding to their load of toxic lactic acid which is produced through voluntary muscle contraction.  This aspect of massage has helped in many areas of degenerative diseases.

6) Improve general circulation, thus increasing nutrition of the tissues.  It is accompanied or followed by an increased interchange of substances between the blood and tissue cells heightening tissue metabolism.

7) Help to prevent buildup of harmful “fatigue” products resulting from strenuous exercise or injury.

8) Have a sedating or stimulating effect on the nervous system depending upon the length and type of massage given.

9) Help compensate for lack of exercise and muscular contraction in people who, because of injury, illness, or age are forced to remain inactive.  In these cases, massage helps return the venous blood to the heart and eases the strain on this vital organ.

10) Increase the excretion (via the kidneys) of fluids and waste products of protein metabolism, inorganic phosphorus, and salt in normal individuals.

11) Encourage retention of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur necessary for tissue repair in persons recovering from bone fractures.

12) Stretch connective tissue, improve circulation and nutrition and break down or prevent the formation of adhesions and reduce the danger of fibroids.

13) Improve the circulation and nutrition to joints and hastens the elimination of harmful deposits.  It helps lessen inflammation and swelling in joints and so alleviates pain.

14) Help reduce edema (water retention) in the extremities.

15) Disperse the edema following an injury to ligaments and tendons, lessens pain and facilitates movement.

From the moment we are born to the final days of our lives, touch acts as a central aspect of the human experience. Whether it’s receiving a massage, or a hug to a spouse leaving for work or even a simple high five, touch is a powerful form of communication.  Being able to give and receive touch in a loving, compassionate manner with pure intentions has a profound effect on the entire healing process.  It impacts our physical, mental and emotional health, and quite literally shapes the way we go through life. 

Start the New Year out right by adding regular massage and bodywork into your wellness routine.  Notice what a difference it makes in your life.