We have about 5 million sensory nerve receptors in our skin. Most of our sense of touch comes externally by way of our skin, however, we’re also able to feel pain and pressure inside our bodies. It is an important part of our daily life. From waking up in the morning and feeling the warm water of our showers, to taking off our shoes at the end of a long day, to hugging our friends. If you really stop to think about it, our sense of touch affects everything we do.
Welcome to our somatic sensory system. This system is responsible for our sense of touch and is made up of different receptors. The nerve receptors, called touch or pressure receptors, help you feel something when it comes into contact with our skin. We also have nerve receptors that feel pain and temperature changes. How does it all work? Very briefly, these receptors send electrical pulses to our neurons, special cells that relay messages, to the next neuron and so on until it reaches the spinal cord. From there our spinal cord takes the message and sends it to our brain. Our brain is then able to translate the message and sends a message back. This is the part of ‘touch’ that gives us facts (i.e. touching a tree or feeling the sun on your face).
We also have an emotional touch system that includes special sensors called ‘c tactile fibres’. These sensors convey messages much slower and includes a completely different set of sensory receptors that wind up in a different part of our brain.
I think it’s an understatement to say the sense of touch is powerful. So powerful that not only do we use our sense of touch thousands of times a day but that it’s also said to be our primary language of compassion and spreading compassion. It’s what makes us human.
What are some of the therapeutic benefits of touch?
It promotes balance within the body systems. Touch can stimulate the parasympathetic system which is the system that looks after our body during rest and recuperation. It also controls heart rate and body temperature. It’s commonly known as the system responsible our body’s stress (“fight or flight”) responses.
It stimulates dopamine. This is the chemical in our brain that affects emotion. It also affects our movements and our sense of pain or pleasure.
It stimulates the thymus gland. The thymus gland is responsible for producing several hormones but has a direct link to our immune system as it produces a particular type of white blood cells called T-lymphocytes or T cells.
It stimulates serotonin. This is an important chemical in our body that helps with our mood, appetite, digestion, sleep and memory.
It stimulates oxytocin. This is hormone produced by our brain. It’s sometimes referred to as the ‘love hormone’ because oxytocin levels increase during hugging and orgasm.
The list goes on. There is more and more scientific evidence available related to the importance of touch. Research suggests that touch is vital to human communication, bonding and health. Simple positive methods of touch such as hugging and massage can be vital in preventing diseases, reducing stress and elevating our moods. Simply holding someone’s hand can provide comfort and is a way to communicate without saying a word. Imagine if we all incorporated more positive therapeutic touch in our lives.
About Maria Fiordalisi – Maria is a Certified Reflexologist, Clinical Aromatherapist and Reiki Master. To learn more about Maria and her services visit www.mariafiordalisi.ca or @mariafiordalisi on Facebook & Instagram.
Originally posted in Holistic Beauty Magazine, Summer 2018 – FEEL Issue