How Important Is Touch?- Nobel Prize Important!

Posted Jul 25, 2022 at 16:58

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The Last two years have been challenging for many people. Lock downs put in place to reduce spread of Coronavirus have also lead to many people being isolated, lonely, deprived of human interactions and touch. 

Touch is one the most important senses that we have. When baby is born, a caregiver’s touch is crucial to bring feeling of safety and comfort. It is also important for brain development and overall wellbeing. Holding a hand of someone on their deathbed is one of the last things we can do to show them how much we care. 

Although we know how important touch is, until very recently it wasn’t clear for the scientist how receptors sense heat and cold. We knew that there are receptors and nerve connections involved but how the receptors actually work, has only recently been deepened by researchers Ardem Patapoutian and Davis Julius. Their work which discovered how the body responds to temperature and touch won Nobel prize in 2021. 

What was the main discovery of the researchers?

The study discovered two protein, Piezo1 and Piezo2 which affect touch and sensation. Piezo2 is the primary sensor for touch and pressure. Without it we wouldn’t be able to sense touch. What is also important is that the protein can play role in our proprioception – the awareness of what is happening with our body in space and time even when our eyes are closed.  In animal study, los of Piezo2 has correlated with misalignments in the spine and hips. 

Why developing science of touch is important?

Well for a start, for past few centuries science dominated any other form of medicine and healing therapies demanding them to be scientifically proven. There are many reasons for that which are beyond the scope of this blog. Alternative therapies such chiropractic or massage for long time have had to defend themselves and prove in scientific way their efficacy and right to exist. That is despite the millions of people worldwide being walking prove that these therapies work and help to improve health on many levels. 

As a myofascial therapist, I am very happy that more research is being done in the area or touch and how important it is for our wellbeing. Massage is rooted in the sense of touch and understanding better the mechanism behind it is vital in developing our practice. It can help to improve and develop new techniques and explain how and why some techniques work better in certain situations than others. 

Understanding how heat and touch are recognized by body and how it potentially influences proprioception can open door to soft tissues therapists to explore even further bringing awareness of the body through touch to increase proprioception. 

Investigating the mechanism of heat detection and processing plays also vital role in understanding better how heat based soft tissue therapies such as hot stones massage influence the parasympathetic responses. 

Moreover, in times when many of us were deprived of touch because of lock down and encouraged to avoid social contacts, it somehow seems even more powerful that study regarding this fundamental to our wellbeing sensation has been recognized with the one (if not the most) prestigious Nobel prize. If that does not remind us how important touch is, then what will?