In pain? Ditch paracetamol for a hug from a loved one

Photo / 123RF
Photo / 123RF

When you're in physical pain, the last thing you want is someone pawing at you.

But it seems that the touch of a loved one may be just what you need to take the pain away, according to a study.

Scientists found that the emotional bond we feel towards the person touching us can help dampen our aches and pains, in what they dubbed 'love-induced analgesia'.

But being touched by a stranger does not have the same effect, because we have no feelings towards them.

The findings highlight the power of the brain to override pain signals.

Britons spend around £500million a year on over-the-counter painkillers, with a similar amount spent by the NHS on powerful prescription-only medicines.

In recent years, there has been mounting interest in harnessing the brain's own ability to control pain.

Several studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact, also called social touch, can be a powerful analgesic. But until now it has not been clear whether the effect differs according to who is doing the touching.

Researchers at Israel's Haifa University recruited dozens of female volunteers and repeatedly subjected them to temporary mild pain by touching them on the arm with a hot metal rod.

In the first experiment, a complete stranger held their hand to try and comfort them during the minor ordeal. In the second one, they had their husband or partner stand close to them without making skin contact.

For the final test, their loved one was allowed to hold or stroke their hand as the hot metal made contact with their skin.

Scientists found that a stranger's touch - as well as having a partner in close proximity - made little or no difference to the sensation of pain.

But when a loved one touched their skin, volunteers' pain scores tumbled, in what was akin to 'love-induced analgesia'.

The researchers also found that the more a woman's partner expressed empathy and support for them during the experiment, the greater the level of relief.

Writing in the Journal of Pain, they said: 'The findings highlight the powerful analgesic effect of social touch and suggest that empathy between romantic partners may explain its pain-alleviating effects.'

It follows a 2011 study at Stanford University in the US, which found that staring at a lover's picture reduced pain levels by 44 per cent.

This type of pain relief is thought to work by dampening down activity in an area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens, a key reward centre that releases neurons in response to behaviours like drug taking.

- Daily Mail

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