Having visitors in hospital can help speed up patients' recovery time after surgeryResearchers at Ohio State University found patients who have contact with friends while recovering from surgery have less nerve-related painBut contact with companions must be in person and not through social media to have an effect
06:26 GMT, 17 October 2012
Having a friend nearby can help patients recover quicker from the pain of surgery, according to studies by neuroscientists.
But to be effective it has to be old fashioned ‘social contact’ where the friend is there in person and not simply on a social network like Facebook or Twitter.
Companionship appears to be the key in recovering from pain in numerous experiments presented to the annual meeting of experts from the Society of Neuroscience.
The road to recovery: Surgery patients who have visitors while in hospital have less nerve-related pain and their inflammation levels lower quicker
Those recovering from surgery who have people visiting them suffer less nerve-related pain while inflammation levels lower faster.
Simply having a friend nearby helps reduce stress which, in turn, allows the body to heal quicker, the tests suggest.
Physical social contact has both ‘behavioural and physiological’ influences, said researchers from Ohio State University in the USA.
The contact must be face-to-face – not online – to have any benefit
After neurosurgery, mice were left to recover in a cage on their own or in a cage with another mouse.
Various tests and observations showed the mice with a cage-mate had a lower level of a nerve-related pain called allodynia and they healed faster from the post-op inflammation.
They appeared to show fewer signs of stress when paired with another mouse and this, it is believed, helps their recovery.
Stress raises the levels of certain proteins associated which in turn affect the body’s reaction to inflammation and injury.
Isolated mice had far higher levels of these proteins in their brain and spinal cord tissue.
Lead researcher Adam Hinzey said: 'If they were alone and had stress, the animals had increased inflammation and allodynia behaviour.
'If the mice had a social partner, both allodynia and inflammation were reduced.'
The findings could have a significant bearing for millions of people who suffer a nerve pain called peripheral neuropathy, often connected to diabetes, trauma and spinal cord injury.
Hinzey added: 'A better understanding of social interaction’s beneficial effects could lead to new therapies for this type of pain.'
Ohio State professor of neuroscience Courtney DeVries said: 'We believe that socially isolated individuals are physiologically different from socially paired individuals, and that this difference seems to be related to inflammation.
'The data showed very nicely that the social environment is influencing not just behaviour but really the physiological response to the nerve injury.'