Gentle and nurturing touch manipulates the brain and is a great source of pain relief.
We can thank a type of nerves called Meissner’s Corpuscles for this. They detect only one kind of sensation, and that is light touch. The brain considers sensations received from them as a higher priority than chronic aches which are detected by other parts of the nervous system. So, when a feather brushes the skin or fingers are reading braille, the mind gives a greater portion of focus and energy to those kinds of sensations.
Additionally, Meissner’s Corpuscles transmit information rapidly. This is different from deep, dull aches which are picked up and reported to the brain on a slower neural pathway. So, again, in the brain’s hierarchy of attention, light touch wins.
When the skin is flooded with pleasurable sensations, the mind will take a break from the chronic pain.
In practical terms, the good feelings squeeze out the bad. This is why the laying on of hands for chronic pain works. Ironically, it is similar to how opiates help, but fortunately without the negative side effects.
The one challenge with this strategy is that the brain rapidly adapts to surface pressure.
For example, we are only aware of clothes touching our skin for a relatively short period of time, which is also a kind of light touch.
So this is how you overcome the fickle nature of the brain:
Next time you are caring for a loved one in pain, lay your hands very lightly on the affected area for a few minutes, and then move them to an adjoining space close by for a few minutes again. Also try making light slow circles or brushing motions on the skin. This will be soothing too. If possible, keep it up for a minimum of 20 minutes and reassess. The idea is to maintain a barely perceptible pressure and don’t stay in one place for too long.
This is a great technique to help someone or request for yourself when needed. No major training is needed, so anyone can do it. It is easy and effective.
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