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The Healing Power of Touch: Comprehensive Scientific Review Confirms Physical and Mental Health Benefits

Updated: Apr 10


Recent research has delved deep into understanding the profound effects of touch, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic where social distancing has limited physical contact. This extensive evidence-based research shares with the public what massage therapists and bodyworkers already know: The sense of touch is fundamental to our well-being.


Through a large-scale analysis, researchers from the Social Brain Lab at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience have uncovered the ways in which consensual touch can benefit a person's physical and mental health. The study was published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, and picked up by multiple media outlets, including in the NYTimes article, "Large Scientific Review Confirms the Benefits of Physical Touch" by Joanne Silberner


Here is a synopsis of the research:


Touch interventions, ranging from massages for adults to kangaroo care for newborns, have been found to offer a myriad of benefits. These include aiding in growth and development, reducing anxiety and stress, and even enhancing weight gain in newborns. However, the wide variability in study cohorts, types of touch, measured outcomes, and the touch providers necessitated a systematic review and multivariate meta-analysis to draw meaningful conclusions.


This comprehensive study explored the impact of touch interventions on physical and mental health across different age groups and touch dynamics. Key findings include:


Touch is a Game Changer

Touch interventions were found to have an effect on both physical and mental health, with benefits such as pain reduction, alleviation of depression and anxiety, and improved weight gain in newborns.


More Touch, More Joy

The frequency of touch interventions played a crucial role, with more sessions showing positive effects on trait outcomes like depression and anxiety, as well as pain reduction in adults.


Human Touch Rules

Human-applied touch was more effective in improving mental health compared to touch from objects or robots, highlighting the importance of skin-to-skin contact for optimal benefits.



Aging Gracefully with Touch

Age-related effects were observed, with increasing age correlating with higher benefits in systolic blood pressure through touch interventions.


Empowering Women

Sex differences were noted, with women showing stronger buffering effects against physiological stress through touch interventions compared to men.


Familiarity Breeds Comfort

Familiarity with the touch provider influenced health benefits in newborns, with parental touch showing greater benefits than touch from medical staff.


Touch is a Universal Language

Touch interventions were beneficial across both healthy and clinical cohorts, with larger effects observed in clinical populations, possibly due to increased touch wanting in patients.


Our Furry Friends Love Touch Too

The study also explored touch interventions in animals, finding similar beneficial effects on mental and physical health outcomes, which may inform animal welfare practices.


While the study emphasizes the robust health benefits of touch interventions, it also acknowledges limitations such as the need for more research on specific moderators, long-term outcomes, and cultural influences on perceived pleasantness of touch.


In conclusion, the research underscores the significant positive impact of touch interventions on overall well-being across diverse populations, paving the way for tailored and effective touch-based interventions in healthcare and beyond.


The findings from this research carry significant implications for massage therapists marketing their touch skills. Emphasizing the diverse range of benefits such as pain reduction, stress relief, and improved mental well-being can attract clients seeking holistic health solutions.


Understanding the moderating factors identified in the study, such as frequency of sessions, familiarity with the touch provider, and age-related effects, can help massage therapists tailor their touch interventions to better meet the needs of their clients. For example, they can offer packages with multiple sessions for clients dealing with chronic pain or stress.


Highlighting the nurturing and therapeutic aspects of human-applied touch can set their services apart.


Overall, integrating evidence-based research on touch can empower massage therapists to offer high-quality, tailored, and impactful services to their clients.


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