“Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language, and the last, and it always tells the truth.”
Physical Touch as a Basic Human Need
People have always used touch to communicate. A hug to say you care about someone, a pat on the arm to say you understand, a brush of someone’s hair that absentmindedly says, “I love you.” But physical touch is about far more than communication or sensation. It also has a well-documented physical and emotional impact.
The importance of physical touch in our daily lives is more significant than ever because of COVID-19 restrictions, which left some of our most vulnerable populations without the ability to touch or be touched. People social distancing by themselves, elderly people in long-term care facilities, and those who were sick in hospitals (COVID-19 or otherwise) were just a few groups of people who went days, weeks, or months without skin to skin contact. Electronic means of connection are great, but they don’t replace the benefits of physical connection.
The massage therapists and manual osteopath practitioners at Urban Massage and Wellness are well aware of the physical and emotional benefits of touch (and the negative health effects of a lack of touch). Let’s talk more about why touch is important and the science behind touch.
What Scientific and Medical Research Says About Touch
Research on the importance of touch began only about 40 years ago. In that time, studies have shown that the amount of human contact in our lives plays a vital role in mental and physical development as infants and in our happiness and energy as adults.
Touch has the ability to:
- Enhance feelings of wellness
- Help us relieve mental stress
- Foster peace of mind to improve our capacity for calmer thinking and creativity channels
- Improve awareness of mind-body connection to enhance our ability to monitor stress signals
- Reduce our anxiety levels
- Help us understand one another and show compassion
Consider a “hands-on” study conducted by a student at Berkeley University. Two strangers had to communicate different emotions using only physical touch on someone’s arm. The predicted success rate of individuals guessing what each touch represented was about 8%, but the study showed 60% success, even for complex emotions like gratitude and anger. In some cases, physical touch was a better distinguisher for emotion than vocal or facial communication.
Oxytocin – The “Feel-Good Hormone”
Other studies have looked at the role of oxytocin in human contact. Oxytocin is sometimes known as the “love hormone” or the “cuddle hormone” because it’s often triggered by touch.
Oxytocin relaxes the body quickly, lowering stress levels and, in some cases, even reducing the amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the blood.
Oxytocin has several proven physical health effects, including:
- Lowering blood pressure (and not just right after physical touch, either, but a continuous lowered resting blood pressure)
- Improving overall cardiovascular functioning
- Aiding in sleep
- Improving immune function
- Improving psychological functions and overall mental well-being
Touch is wired into our brains from the beginning of our lives, and part of that is due to the role of oxytocin in developing the mother-child relationship. If you’ve ever had a baby reach out and hold onto your finger, you’ve seen this at play in real life.
Finally, oxytocin is a “feel good” hormone. On an emotional level, it just makes you feel amazing! Who doesn’t want to feel instantly relaxed and comfortable?
Massage Therapy & Touch
Any type of manual therapy (including massage and manual osteopathy) helps fulfill the basic human need for touch. As therapists, we combine science and art, balancing the explicit need for relief of pain with less explicit needs, like the need for physical touch.
Often, touch also motivates therapists to pursue a career in the healing arts. People who become more aware of the potential benefits of touch are more likely to do something about it. As therapists, we know the benefits we can provide simply by providing skin to skin contact.
Healing through Contact
Skin to skin contact is important, but in massage therapy and osteopathy, touch is also diagnostic and we can help the body heal at a deeper level.
When we’re training to become massage therapists, we learn how to feel a client’s tissue and figure out if it is or isn’t moving properly. The science comes from the background and learning technicalities that we use to describe these things to each other, including the anatomies and the physiologies. It’s the science of connection between the body’s systems.
Using all of our manual skills, we encourage the body, if possible, to heal itself.
In massage, we look at your skeleton and the muscles attached to that. In manual osteopathy, we go even deeper, looking at your nervous system and the circulation of all of the body’s fluids, including blood, lymph, synovial fluid, cerebrospinal fluid, and all other intracellular fluids of the body.
Ultimately, we enable a suffering client to achieve a better standard of health throughout all their systems. Our goal is to restore your vitality through the healing art of evidence-based touch so you can live the extraordinary life you deserve!
The Slow Return to Normalcy
As we come out of a lengthy period of social isolation after the initial wave of COVID-19, people are craving social interaction, and that includes the need for physical touch. For many, getting back onto the massage table won’t just help them work out those kinks that have been building up; it will also help them recover from the lack of touch we’ve all experienced (whether you’ve been isolating alone or not).
We look forward to seeing you return to the clinic (with new safety measures in place, of course!) When you come in for your first treatment, keep touch in mind and see if you can feel the difference it makes just to have a bit of human to human contact.
Get in touch or head online to book your next appointment now!