A Review of the Health Benefits of Human Touch
Touch is a very fundamental human need. Children crave it, teenagers want it, and adults thrive on it. The skin is the most sensitive of our organs. It facilitates real communication between individuals. Infants and children who suffer from a deprivation of touch normally experience behavioral abnormalities later in life. Children demand the security and reassurance of a parents hand when they enter an unfamiliar place that seems dark, or threatening. An affirming pat on the back, or a hug of appreciation has helped many a friend or family member feel connected. In the world of cancer, tumor cells grow bizarre when they fail to recognize adjoining cells touching them.
In a recent study, the growth, mental development, and sleep patterns of normal infants were significantly improved by receiving regular skin-to-skin touching from their parents at least 2-3 times a day. The earlier in their life they received the therapeutic touch, the better was their development. Touch therapy also facilitates the physiological and behavioral well-being of preterm infants, such as improved coordination in sucking and swallowing. Maternal massage therapy to premature infants facilitated weight gain and decreased the length of hospital stay.
In the West, the medical system has been viewed by some as cold and detached, replete with machines and technology. Health practitioners are now realizing the importance that touch can play in the healing process. Some large cancer centers in the US have started to utilize massage therapy to improve the quality of sleep, reduce fatigue, pain, anxiety, and nausea. Massage may increase the levels of lymphocytes and natural killer cells.
Massage is a practice that dates back thousands of years. Ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese, and Egyptian writings make reference to massage. Today, part of the effectiveness of complementary medical practices, such as massage and hydrotherapy, depends upon the therapeutic touch of the caregiver. Massage is utilized for a variety of reasons - to relieve pain, rehabilitate sports injuries, reduce stress, increase relaxation, treat chronic low-back pain, and improve the quality of life.
Author: Winston Craig, MPH, PhD, RD.
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