Holding Hands Can Help Ease Pain

While his wife was giving birth to their daughter, University of Colorado Boulder researcher Pavel Goldstein held her hand and found it eased her pain. That observation led to research showing that holding hands with someone you love who is in pain can synchronize your breathing, heart rate and brain waves. And the more brain waves synchronize, the greater the reduction in pain, the researchers reported. Goldstein and his team tested this in young heterosexual couples that had been together for at least a year. First, the couples sat together without touching, then sat holding hands and then sat in separate rooms. In all cases, the women were subjected to mild heat pain on their arms. The researchers noted that just being together – even if they weren’t touching – led to some brain wave synchronicity. If the man held the woman’s hand, synchronicity increased and her pain eased. If a woman was in pain and her partner couldn’t touch her, brain wave synchronicity diminished. Later tests found that the more empathetic a man was to his partner’s pain, the more their brain activity synched and the more her pain subsided. Further studies are needed to explore exactly how this happens.

Pavel Goldstein et al, “Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 26, 2018; 201703643 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1703643115

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