24/09/2010 11:09 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Rubbing It Better Does Work

What's the first thing you do when you stub your toe or bang your knee against a table? If you're like most people, your immediate instinct might be to touch the part that hurts (your mum probably called it rubbing it better).

Flickr, Gibson Claire McGuire Regester

But there's a good reason for that instinct, say scientists from University College London. Rubbing it better does work, and the scientists think they know why.

Writing in the medical journal Current Biology, the researchers subjected a group of volunteers to tests involving a technique called thermal grill illusion. They placed the volunteers' index and ring fingers in warm water and their middle fingers in cold water. Don't ask us why, but that apparently makes your middle finger feel painfully hot.

When the volunteers immediately touched their smarting fingers with their other hand, the pain in the middle fingers dropped by 64%.

The researchers believe their tests show that touching an area of pain on the body gives your brain information, which it then acts on by reducing the pain (even when there is no actual pain, just an illusion of pain).

But the touch has to come from the person feeling the pain, as the researchers discovered when someone else touches the part that hurts, it doesn't work (which isn't great news for touch therapists).

It's not the first time scientists have investigated the healing power of touch, but it is a new theory on the mechanisms involved in how touch relieves pain.

Do you have an interesting way of relieving pain or making yourself feel better?