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As science continues to look into how the human body works, more empirical evidence surfaces validating the role human touch has on not only infant emotional and physiological development, but also on adults.
Unfortunately, many people take any reference to human touch as meaning something sexual. Leading and experienced massage therapists are swimming upstream against such perceptions and promoting massage therapy as a method of treatment for many things, and as part of normal human interaction.
How Does Touch Work?
Simply put, touch from a trusted source relaxes us. Touch reduces stress hormone levels and increases the amount of endorphins resulting in minimized perception of pain and reducing the “fight or flight” response associated with the hypothalamic region of the brain.
In the 1980s, the importance of touch in infant development went mainstream when the conditions in Romanian orphanages were broadcast to the world revealing emaciated and socially withdrawn and underdeveloped children.
Since then, science has worked to show how strongly a baby’s growth is linked to bonding and human touch. “Children who are touched, caressed and held lovingly by their parents tend to develop into healthier and happier adults. Massage for infants helps them to gain weight faster, develop motor skills, relax muscles and reduce spasms and pain…[Touch]…stimulates nerves in the brain that improve absorption of food and improve rapid weight gain…lowers stress levels that improves immune system functions” (www.livestrong.com). When babies’ stress levels are reduced they sleep deeper and longer and soothes pain.
Pre-term babies who are massaged daily gain nearly 50 percent more weight and are discharged from the hospital one week earlier than those who did not received massage therapy.
Touch is not Just for Babies
But the benefits of touch go beyond infants.
A study in 1998 on elderly adults with degenerative arthritis discovered that touch therapy improved pain, tension, moods, satisfaction and hand function. “Research conducted at St.