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The Power of Touch

Do you remember when you were younger and you had to get a shot at the doctor’s office?  What did you want to do at that moment?  I remember reaching for my mom or dad’s hand.  Why?

Even now, as an adult, when I’m on an airplane and there is turbulence, I typically grab for my husband’s hand (or he grabs for mine) and for some reason, it has a calming effect on me.

In a recent study performed at the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at the University of Colorado, researchers took 22 long-term “in-love” couples and put them through a series of “mild heat pain” experiments.  They took subjective pain ratings and heart and breathing rates as the couples were instructed to either hold hands, sit side-by-side without touching, or were put in separate rooms.


  • The pain ratings were lowest when the partners held hands and highest when they were separated and in different rooms
  • The heart and breathing rates were in sync within each couple before the pain stimulus was introduced. These readings only stayed in sync if the couple was touching while the pain stimulus was presented.  The heart and breathing rates dropped out of sync without touch but interestingly enough, returned to being in sync if instructed to hold hands again.

Take home point:

Pain is produced by the brain to protect us from potential harm.  We get a lot of information to our brain through our sensory nerves in our skin.  We know if something is hot or cold, sharp or dull, dangerous or not.  In the midst of pain or a potentially harmful situation, getting some positive input to the central nervous system simply from a loved one’s touch, or even from them being in the same room, can affect what we feel.  Amazing!

Link to study below:

Katie Cordery, PT

Omaha Physical Therapy Institute (OPTI) is an outpatient orthopedic and sports physical therapy clinic with it’s main location at 144th & Dodge and it’s Athlete’s In Motion (A.I.M.) Clinic located at 144th & Giles.  The physical therapists at OPTI have a passion for learning and stay up to date on the most current pain neuroscience.  This has allowed for more efficient and effective care as our treatments always include educating our patients about their pain with strategies to address it at the time of treatment as well as in the future.


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