Study Uses Functional MRI to Answer Why Scratching Relieves Itching

A study by Dr. Yosipovitch at Wake Forest University used functional MRIs to examine the effects on the brain of scratching an itch. Scratching decreased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and in the posterior cingulate cortex. These areas are associated with pain aversion and memory. According to the study, an increase in scratching led to a decrease of activity in these areas of the brain.

“It’s possible that scratching may suppress the emotional components of itch and bring about relief,” Yosipovitch said.

Well, plenty of my patients must be emotionally suppressed these days — with winter itch in full effect, plenty of them are scratching.

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3 thoughts on “Study Uses Functional MRI to Answer Why Scratching Relieves Itching”

  1. I am so glad to have found your site. I’ll be adding you to my list of regular reads…as I will have skin care questions for you on the regular! 🙂

  2. Maybe the brain is rewarding the behavior because once upon a time, some itching could have meant a little pest that needed to be removed.

    Could it also have some connection to the soothing effect of social primate grooming when friends and relatives pick nits out of the hair? I know this sounds gross to us now, but since we do come from apes, we have a lot of leftover behaviors and responses from that period. Having someone else brush and wash your hair, like in a salon, is very relaxing.

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