Massage and Touch is a Primal Necessity


About a hundred years ago, about 99% of babies in orphanages in the United States died before they were seven months old. Orphanages were an everyday part of the social landscape. Unwanted babies were deposited in these institutions, where modern antiseptic procedures and adequate food seemed to guarantee them at least a fighting chance for a healthy life. But the babies died, not from infectious diseases or malnutrition; they simply wasted away in a condition called “marasmus.” Sterile surroundings didn’t cure it; having enough food made no difference. These babies died from a completely different kind of deprivation: lack of touch. When babies were removed from these large, clean but impersonal institutions to environments where they received physical nurturing along with formula, the marasmus reversed. They gained weight and finally began to thrive. Touch is vital for survival in the

In 1944 in the USA, an experiment was conducted on 40 newborn infants to determine whether individuals could thrive alone on basic physiological needs without affection. Twenty new-born infants were housed in a special facility where they had caregivers who would go in to feed them, bathe them and change their diapers, but they would do nothing else. The caregivers had been instructed not to look at or touch the babies more than what was necessary, never communicating with them. All their physical needs were attended to scrupulously and the environment was kept sterile, none of the babies becoming ill.

The experiment was halted after four months, by which time, at least half of the babies had died at that point. There was no physiological cause for the baby’s deaths; they were all physically very healthy. Before each baby died, there was a period where they would stop verbalizing and trying to engage with their caregivers, generally stop moving, nor cry or even change expression; death would follow shortly. The babies who had “given up” before being rescued, died in the same manner, even though they had been removed from the experimental conditions.

The conclusion was that nurturing is a very vital need in humans. Whilst this was taking place, in a separate facility, the second group of twenty new-born infants were raised with all their basic physiological needs provided and the addition of affection from the caregivers. This time however, the outcome was as expected, the infants thrived.

In early embryology, the cells divide into three distinctly different type of cells called, endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm. The endoderm later becomes the gut tube and its derived organs, including the cecum, intestine, stomach, thymus, liver, pancreas, lungs, thyroid and prostate. The mesoderm ultimately becomes the bones, muscles, the heart and circulatory system, and internal sex organs. The ectoderm becomes the skin, the brain, spinal cord and the entire nervous system.

It is the same cells that create the skin and the nervous system! Photos of the brain of touch deprived infants show lack of neurological development and no growth of the brain itself. It looks like a brain of someone with Alzheimer’s.

This could lead us to the conclusion, that stimulation of the skin through touch has not only a beneficial effect on infants and adults, but is core to our physiological, psycho-emotional wellbeing. Modern complimentary treatments such as Massage, Reflexology, Kinesiology, Cranio Sacral Therapy, Shiatsu, Reiki or fascia release, that offer some sort of touch as a therapy, now seem to play a much bigger role in the wellness field is was previously thought in a society where affectionate touch, even among married couples has become rare.