Skip to main content
Woman getting a massage to relieve headache pain


What the research says about touch and head pain.

Call it the power of positive touch: According to research by the University of Miami Touch Research Institute, platonic touch can lower blood pressure and heart rate (two telltale signs of stress), decrease cortisol (a stress hormone), and increase oxytocin – a powerful hormone associated with positive feelings. 1

Moderate pressure is the key to getting all the healthy benefits — too light of touch may just tickle and too heavy a hand can tip off your flight-or-fight response. Massage is recognized as an ideal way to get all the health benefits as it hits a happy medium. Massage may enhance immune functions as it increases the amount of natural killer cells in the body. (Contrary to what their name implies, killer cells are good guys – they’ve been shown to fight off infection). 2

And there’s more: Touch may even have the power to alleviate head pain for some headache sufferers. In a study from 1986 (one of the most recent studies specifically looking at touch and headaches), 60 participants with tension headaches were either treated with “therapeutic touch” (a “laying of hands,” or touch that intends to help or heal) or a placebo. Of those who received therapeutic touch, 90 percent experienced a reduction in headache pain immediately afterward and 70 percent felt a reduction four hours later. An increase in serotonin may explain the healing effect at play. 3

The takeaway? The effects of touch are lasting ones. Next time you’re feeling stressed or dealing with a headache, give a friend a hug or maybe treat yourself to a massage.


  1. Tiffany Field, Touch for socioemotional and physical well-being: A review, Developmental Review, Volume 30, Issue 4, December 2010, Pages 367-383, ISSN 0273-2297,
  2. Vivier E, Tomasello E, Baratin M, Walzer T, Ugolini S. Functions of natural killer cells. Nat Immunol. 2008 May;9(5):503-10. doi: 10.1038/ni1582. Review. PubMed PMID: 18425107.
  3. Keller E, Bzdek VM. Effects of therapeutic touch on tension headache pain. Nurs Res. 1986 Mar-Apr;35(2):101-6. PubMed PMID: 3633503.

Tags: headache tips, headache prevention, relationships

Become a headache expert.
Sign up for the 5-week Headache Boot Camp