If you have ever held a child’s hand while they get a shot—or had someone hold yours when you’re on the receiving end of the needle—it’s a welcome sign of support. A new study, though, says that squeezing someone’s hand might be more than just a morale booster. It might actually be a painkiller.
According to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, holding hands in painful situations (like childbirth) may actually help alleviate pain. To prove what many of us may have guessed at, researchers put 20 couples in different situations and asked them to either hold hands, sit together without touching, or sit in different rooms. The woman in each couple was then put through different tests—one painless and one hopefully not too painful.
While the tests were underway, the researchers monitored the brain activity of both the man and the woman. According to Tonic, in the past, research has shown that when you see someone else in pain, especially if that person is your partner or a friend, your brain can react as if you are feeling the pain firsthand, even though the pain isn't happening directly to you.
In the new study, they found that not only did the couple both feel pain (at least in their neural systems) while the woman was undergoing her tests, but they discovered that the sympathetic feelings increased when the couple was holding hands.
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If that’s not enough to get you humming The Beatles song, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” at the doctor’s office, the researchers also found that hand-holding—or more specifically, hand squeezing—can actually reduce pain. The reason wives have been squeezing their husband’s hands in the delivery rooms for generations is that holding hands with someone—especially someone you love—can act as a natural painkiller. While it’s not quite the same as an Advil or an epidural, the more empathetic a spouse was, the more effective their touch was at easing pain. The scientists think that the connection between couples might lead to the person in pain feeling more understood and closer to their partner and that is enough to help them feel just a little bit better.
The next time someone you love is getting a shot or in pain, let them give you a squeeze. It might be more than just a helping hand.