couple holding hands in summertime couple holding hands in summertime Holding hands can be more than a loving gesture, a new study says. It can also reduce pain. (Photo: 271 EAK MOTO/Shutterstock)

Science confirms: The healing power of touch is real

New study shows that couples' breathing and heart rates sync up, and pain decreases, when they hold hands.

Perhaps the term "magic touch" has more basis in reality than we thought.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and Israel's University of Haifa found that when lovers hold hands, their heart and respiratory rates synchronize, and pain is reduced.

It's the latest scientific evidence that touching really does heal. And it could help doctors find better ways to manage patients' pain without the use of addictive opioids.

Pavel Goldstein, lead author of the study and a pain researcher at CU Boulder, put 22 couples through a series of tests that mimicked a delivery-room scenario. Women were subjected to mild heat pain while men were instructed to perform different roles: sitting with her without touching, sitting together holding hands and sitting in separate rooms. Goldstein and his colleagues monitored the subjects' heart and breathing while also asking the woman to rate her pain.

couple holding hands during pregnancy health checkGuys, here's a way to feel a little more useful in the delivery room: hold her hand. (Photo: Leonardo da/Shutterstock)

The researchers observed that without pain, the woman's heart rate and breathing synchronized with her partner just by sitting together. But when the pain was administered, that synchronization stopped.

But when the man took the woman's hand, the synchronization resumed, and she felt less pain.

period crampsShe could really use a hand. (Photo: Nikodash/Shutterstock)

Like many scientific studies, this one grew out of personal experience. Goldstein himself was inspired to study interpersonal synchronization after watching his wife give birth to their daughter. "My wife was in pain, and all I could think was, 'What can I do to help her?'" he said. "I reached for her hand and it seemed to help."

It's not clear if his wife agreed at the time, or if the epidural (or the actual baby being born) did the trick. But either way, it gave Goldstein his first case study and led to some pretty fascinating research.

"It could be that touch is a tool for communicating empathy, resulting in an analgesic, or pain-killing, effect," he said.

Goldstein said he hopes to move his research forward into helping patients ease their pain through non-addictive, non-invasive methods. The study he wrote with his colleagues in Israel was just published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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