Inspired living

How your healing touch can take away pain

an holds woman's hand near a cup of coffee top view image


Have you noticed how your pain decreases when your loved ones hold your hand in comfort?

This is the healing touch and it’s not just an imaginative phenomenon that we experience.

The healing touch illustrates the role of brain-to-brain coupling that takes place in touch-induced analgesia.

To test if pain can really decrease with a touch and how this happens, researchers recruited 22 heterosexual couples age 23 to 32 years old and who had been together for at least a year.

The participants experienced several two-minute scenarios while their brain activity was measured with electroencephalography (EEG) caps.

The researchers found that when the woman was in pain and her partner could not touch her, the coupling of the brain waves diminished.

The scenarios included sitting together but not touching each other; sitting together and holding hands and sitting in separate rooms.

They then repeated the scenarios with the woman in pain – her hand was subjected to mild heat pain on her arms.

Juts being in each other’s company, whether they touched or not, resulted in some brain wave activity in the alpha mu band – a wavelength associated with focussed attention.

This coupling increased when they held hands while the woman was in pain.

The researchers found that when the woman was in pain and her partner could not touch her, the coupling of the brain waves diminished.

The findings also matched a previous study from the same experiments which showed that the heart rate and respiratory synchronisation disappeared when the male partner could not hold her hand.

Further tests of the male partner’s empathy level revealed that the more empathetic he was towards the woman’s pain the more the brain activity synced. And the more the brain synced, the more her pain reduced.

It seems that pain interrupts interpersonal synchronisation, but then touch brings it back.

The researchers explain that an empathetic touch makes a person feel understood which could activate pain-killing reward mechanism in the brain as seen in previous studies.

While you may express empathy for a person’s pain, without your comforting touch, this empathy is not fully communicated.

When your loved one is in pain, reach out for their hand and show them that you empathise with their experience. Not only will your heart rate and breathing synchronise with your partner but so will your brain activity which will result in less pain for your partner.

This is how the healing touch works with empathy and love.

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!