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‘Sense of touch can help to relieve pain’

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What did the media report?

The media reported that scientists had discovered a set of pleasure nerves in the skin that can alleviate pain when gently stroked.

What did the research show?

The reports focused on research presented earlier this month at the British Association for the Advancement of Science Festival in Liverpool.

Researchers from the UK and Sweden have been assessing the role of C-fibres, which are found in the peripheral nerves of the somatic sensory system, and known primarily as pain receptors. They believe a subset of the fibres may act as ‘pleasure’ receptors.

They carried out a trial on volunteers using a custom-built ‘stroking machine’ – a robotic arm covered with a variety of textured fabrics. They said that pleasure nerve cells became significantly activated by the stroking and sent signals to the pleasure centres of the brain.

Additionally subjects reported that being stroked by the machine alleviated painful heat applied at a nearby location on the skin. The most effective stroking action appeared to be 5cm per second, exerted with a pressure of 2 grams per square cm.

They suggest the fibres are the reason that mothers cuddle and kiss children to make them feel better after being hurt. However, few details on the scale of the research or how pain levels were measured was included in any reports.

What did the researchers say?

Professor Francis McGlone, a Unilever research scientist based at the department of neurological sciences at Liverpool University, said: ‘The pleasant feeling of being stroked is transmitted by the same nervous fibres as pain, the C-fibres. C-fibres are vital for survival because they transmit pain and help to prevent serious injuries.’

What does this mean for nursing practice?

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