Romantic Partners Have the Magic Touch for Pain Relief

JULY 11, 2016
Caitlyn Fitzpatrick
rheumatology, pain management, chronic painThe impact of social touch, or segmental tactile stimulation, has been explored in that past, but the underlying mechanism is far from fully understood.

“Considering that soma affects the way we think, feel, and interact with others, it has been proposed that touch may communicate emotions, including empathy, interacting with the identity of the toucher,” the authors from the University of Haifa in Israel wrote in The Journal of Pain.

The team aimed to see how social touch impacted a person’s pain, as well as how the toucher’s empathy played a role in the analgesic effects. In the study, female participants received tonic heat stimuli. At the same time, their male partners either watched or touched their hands, a stranger touched their hands, and no one interacted with them. The women who touched their partner’s hand during the tonic heat stimuli felt reduced levels of pain compared to all of the other scenarios.

The authors noted that pain ratings only decreased during the time that the partners were touching the participants’ hands. In addition, a significant relationship emerged showing that the partners’ empathy levels for the women played an important role in the pain experience.

The bottom line is that, according to this research, the more empathy someone has for their romantic partner who is in pain, the greater the analgesic effect when they make physical contact.

Since many pain studies don’t take social interaction into consideration, these results can help better understand patients.

“Our findings support the idea that pain perception models should be extended, taking into account some psychological characteristics of observers,” the team concluded.

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