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The Somatic Connection  |   January 2018
It Makes a Difference What You Are Thinking When You Touch Someone Clinically
Author Notes
  • University of California, San Diego School of Medicine 
Article Information
The Somatic Connection   |   January 2018
It Makes a Difference What You Are Thinking When You Touch Someone Clinically
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, January 2018, Vol. 118, 50-51. doi:https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2018.009
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, January 2018, Vol. 118, 50-51. doi:https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2018.009
Cerritelli F, Chiacchiaretta P, Gambi F, Ferretti A. Effect of continuous touch on brain functional connectivity is modified by the operator's tactile attention. Front Hum Neurosci. 2017;11:368. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00368 
Osteopathic and neuroscience researchers at the University of Chieti-Pescara in Italy investigated brain activity in healthy participants undergoing 5-minute brain functional magnetic resonance (MR) imaging while an operator gently contacted the ankle area. During contact, the operator focused on either the tactile perception from his hands (operator tactile attention group) or on repeated auditory stimuli (beeps) while wearing headphones (operator auditory attention group). 
This randomized controlled single-blind study recruited 40 healthy right-handed participants, both male and female, between the ages of 18 and 30 years. Exclusion criteria included pharmacologic treatment during the previous 4 weeks; cardiovascular, neurologic, musculoskeletal, psychiatric, genetic, and congenital disorders; and contraindication to MR imaging. Persons who smoked or used drugs were also excluded. Demographic and Trait-State Anxiety Inventory data were collected. 
Five functional MR imaging runs occurred for each participant. Each image was obtained over 5 minutes, during which the participant was instructed to lie still and keep his or her eyes closed. The first run was for a baseline measure, and the next 4 produced the outcome measures. The operator applied a 0.2 N level of force on the ankle (standardized by operator pretraining). 
There were no statistically significant differences in body mass index, age, sex, or any other clinical or neuropsychological parameters between the groups. There were also no differences between groups in perceived touch. However, functional connectivity analysis showed differences in degree of brain activity in the posterior cingulate cortex, right insula, and right inferior-frontal gyrus between the OTA and OAA groups. These effects were most evident after 15 minutes of touching. 
The authors concluded that “if a particular cognitive status of the operator is sustained over time, it is able to elicit significant effects in the subjects’ functional connectivity between areas processing the interoceptive and attentional value of touch.” This first-of-its-kind functional connectivity study opens the door to consider how what the osteopathic physician is thinking about while applying osteopathic manipulative treatment may affect patient outcomes. This study also illustrates possible empirical evaluation of the “body-mind-spirit” aspect of osteopathic philosophy in clinical practice, especially osteopathic manipulative treatment.