Bangkok Post, Lifestyle Family    February 1, 2011   
Santi Juntawan, an occupational therapist at Manarom Hospital.

It may sound surprising that a simple touch or a massage can ease certain illnesses, but it's essentially true.

According to Santi, touch therapies involve three main methods as follows:

1.Touch refers to the use of a hand or finger to gently make contact or lightly tap a person's body, such as holding hands, giving a back rub or touching the shoulder, as well as hugging or putting your arms around someone.

2.Pressure involves the use of hands to press down on troubled spots on the body.

3.Deep stroke is a combination of pressure and massage stroke on a patient's body, sometimes with the use of oils, lotions or creams to reduce friction and provide maximum glide. Therapy massage should always be given gently and not in a hurried manner. Santi also explained that therapeutic touch therapy massage helps to invoke relaxation, reduce stress, boost blood circulation and ease muscle pain.
"When being massaged, your body will relax and release endorphins - which are hormones that help to relieve pain," he said.
For countless generations of people, a loving touch or a massage has been utilised as a traditional healing method by many different cultures because it is safe, efficient, cost-effective, and has no side effects.

Santi Juntawan, an occupational therapist at Manarom Hospital, said that touch is one of the five basic senses every human possesses - the other four senses are vision, hearing, taste, and smell.

"Touch is the first sense to develop since we're in the womb, and the last sense that we use before dying. It is essential to health and the well being of every human's emotions, as well as physical and mental development," he added.

According to Santi, touch therapy massage deploys human hands for the healthy healing of the body as it has been proved that all living creatures need tender touch to thrive and grow.

Numerous studies have also confirmed how much touch can influence people. Students who received supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class compared to those who were not. And a sympathetic touch from a doctor left patients with the impression that their visit lasted twice as long, compared with those who were not touched. Besides, getting a massage from a loved one has been proven to not only ease pain but also reduce depression and strengthen the relationship.

There are many forms of touch, including a warm hand on the shoulder or a gentle touch on the arm. For babies, hugging, caressing and even breastfeeding serve to pass warmth from the parent to the offspring.

A massage, which is also a natural touch therapy, helps infants to grow and develop. Toddlers who have been deprived of the human touch will show a lack of development and their metabolism rate will be badly affected. Apart from these benefits, touch therapy can also relieve other illnesses like infections, diabetes and heart failure, as it helps enhance the immune function.

"What I've mentioned here is not a common touch or a touch for the purpose of medical examination, but a touch where a therapist passes love, care and concern to the patients sincerely and willingly," he said.


According to Santi, touch therapies can efficiently benefit the following groups of people:

- Newborn infants
Studies show that newborn infants who are given massages will gain weight crucial for survival and appear more cheerful. Their stress hormone will decrease and the infant will cry less, become more active and show considerable improvement in cognitive, physical and social development.

Not only massages, but hugs, caressing them or gentle strikes to certain parts of the body can also help to stop babies from crying, particularly when they can feel the warmth of the parents' chests.

The changes are clearly observed, especially in prematurely born babies, as they will have increased weight, and improved muscle skills after getting massages. Most importantly, it shortens the time that infants have to stay in the hospital.
- Children with asthma

Children suffering from asthma who were given proper massages will show less anxiety, and be in a more cheerful mood. Most importantly, their symptoms also seem to improve - and they can breathe more easily with a decreased level of the stress hormone, cortisol.

- Psychiatric patients
Mentally ill patients is another group that evidently benefit from touch or a massage. Patients who are regularly given this type of therapy will show a reduction in stress hormones, such as cortisol and noradrenaline. As a result, the patients will feel relaxed and calmer.

- Those with infected wounds
Gentle pressure or massaging around the infected area will help stimulate blood circulation and boost the function of white blood cells, thus help the wound to gradually recover.

Santi also noted that touch will stimulate the nerves that control the function of muscles or tissues, and the change in hormones produced by the pituitary gland, which help boost the immune function, will boost a person's immunity. The release of endorphins, for example, will ease stress levels that may appear while patients are ill. When stress is decreased, the body will be able to gradually recover the immunity system to a normal level.

"Apart from physical effects, touch also offers emotional and psychological benefits as the care and attention given to the patients will make them feel better," he said.

- Ageing persons
Touch therapy can help ease stress and worry of the elderly. For those with certain kinds of illnesses, the therapy helps them to quickly recover both physically and mentally. The ageing persons will feel better and more comforted as we pass on our love and care through our gentle touch.


- The carers themselves
Touching is mutually beneficial for both the giver and the recipient. The Touch Research Institute in the US reported in a study that in 20 children with leukaemia who were given daily massages by their parents improved their condition. After one month, the parents' depressed mood decreased and the children's white blood cells increased.

In another study of elderly volunteers who were trained to give massages to infants, the seniors reported to experience improved mood with less anxiety, and decreased levels of stress hormones after three weeks.

- Family members
Within the family, an exchange of touch between family members or couples can improve domestic relationships. Sharing of hug, or giving a loved one a back rub serves as a passage for people to show their love and care for each other. It can also result in a more satisfying relationship, as well as result in a warm, relaxing feeling that leads to greater trust between two people.
Santi said patients respond differently to different kinds of touch therapies. Some respond better to gentle touch, while others only significantly recover after receiving deep, long strokes during a massage.

"Some of the patients don't like to be touched. So holding hands would be more appropriate for them. However, for some who prefer a hard massage with a lot of pressure, a deep stroke would then be applied," said Santi.

He also noted that some children suffering from attention deficit disorder may not particularly like being touched or given a massage.

"The treatment for this group should start with a gentle strike, until they become familiar with the touch, then we may spend longer time on skin contact, before developing into a closer form of touch, such as hugging," he said.