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Latest Research on Touch and Health

Here are sum­maries of a few recent research arti­cles in the bur­geon­ing field of touch.

Touch helps your mus­cles work better

In the May, 2010 issue of Gait & Pos­ture, French researchers pub­lished Degraded pos­tural per­for­mance after mus­cle fatigue can be com­pen­sated by skin stim­u­la­tion.

Here’s what they found.  If you exer­cise your Achilles mus­cles to the point of fatigue, your abil­ity to main­tain erect pos­ture becomes impaired.  But not if the skin over your Achilles ten­don is stim­u­lated.  The nerve sen­sa­tion of touch gave your body enough new infor­ma­tion that you could com­pen­sate for the mus­cle fatigue and main­tain pos­tural per­for­mance longer.

More on Achilles ten­don recov­ery.

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The quan­tifi­able, phys­i­cal com­po­nents of a touch sig­nal are inter­twined with the social mean­ing of it

When some­one touches you, your brain rapidly appraises the mechan­i­cal prop­er­ties of the touch — how quick it is, how firm it is, where on the skin it’s occur­ring, etc.  But your over­all expe­ri­ence of being touched also depends on the social and emo­tional (affec­tive) mean­ing that touch has.  For instance, being touched by a per­son who you find attrac­tive will def­i­nitely have a dif­fer­ent mean­ing than being touched by some­one to whom you are indifferent.

Researchers pub­lish­ing in the Decem­ber 10, 2013 issue of Pro­ceed­ings of the National Acad­emy of Sci­ences showed that the same parts of the brain process these two dif­fer­ent types of touch sig­nals, each aspect influ­enc­ing the other.

More on biopsy­choso­cial mod­els of health

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Stim­u­lat­ing touch recep­tors actu­ally leads to the growth of new neu­rons in the spinal cord.

More on the neural dynam­ics of the spinal cord

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Skin has a neu­roen­docrine sig­nal­ing function

The chem­i­cal sig­nals from skin cells help to inte­grate bod­ily responses inde­pen­dently of the brain.  It’s almost as if the skin houses an intel­li­gence of its own.

You may be aware that skin, when exposed to sun­light, is a major source of the hormone-like vit­a­min D.  But sci­en­tists are learn­ing that vit­a­min D is only one of many endocrine sig­nal­ing mol­e­cules released by skin.  The list includes mela­tonin, serotonin-like inflammation-regulators, steroids, and sig­nalers that par­tic­i­pate in the thy­roid and adrenal reg­u­lat­ing systems.

More on touch in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and health.

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