Why Back Scratching Feels So Good?

What’s up with back scratching? I mean, there has to be a reason why it feels amazing when you get a nice back scratch. 

Let’s dive a little deeper…

When we feel an itch coming on it starts with some sort of irritation on the skin. This sends a signal to the immune system and mast cells get sent to that area. Mast cells are the culprits that are responsible for histamine which causes inflammation-we have histamine to thank for allergy symptoms like rashes, sinus congestion, or sore throats.  All of this information is sent back to the brain where it finds out about this pesky itch. Motor neurons are signaled which transmit impulses from your nervous system to the muscles telling them to get to scratching.

Here comes the best part, the actual act of scratching sends a low level signal of pain to the brain to distract ourselves from the itch! Hold on, you’re saying that the itching sends a pain signal to the brain even though it feels so good?! How can it be so?  This low level pain signal is so slight that it doesn’t even register as pain to us.  This pain signal is then sent to the brain where it releases serotonin the “happy hormone” to help the body cope with the pain. Let's learn a little more about this happy hormone.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is mostly made in the brain and intestines from the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that isn’t naturally produced by the body meaning you have to consume foods or supplements that contain tryptophan in order to have an adequate amount for serotonin production. People call it the “happy hormone” because it helps with mood regulation, calming, focus, and becoming overall more emotionally stable.  Serotonin not only lifts the mood but also supports sleep, digestion, sexual function, wound healing, and so much more. Um, pass me the back scratcher! 

Since scratching stimulates the release of serotonin, it's easy to see why we feel so good when we scratch. Serotonin makes us feel good and satisfied so the act of scratching makes you want to scratch even more!

Okay, the story doesn’t end here…Studies have shown that scratching activates the reward system in the brain. The prime components of the reward system are comprised of the Ventral Tegmental Area and substantia nigra which are seen to light up when someone is scratching. The reward system is activated with positive stimulation like eating delicious food, getting a massage, watching your favorite show, and those amazing back scratches.

Besides using the a back scratcher, like the Bearback Back & Body Scratcher, to boost serotonin you can also get a natural boost with the following activities:

Sun Exposure:

Exposing your eyes to natural light in the morning boosts serotonin levels as well as helps to regulate your sleep/wake cycle. 


Physical activity like exercise stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin, both helping to regulate mood and alleviating depression.


Consuming foods like eggs, cheese, turkey, and salmon help with serotonin production because of their high tryptophan content.


Meditation can be very calming and stress relieving while helping your outlook in life which greatly increases serotonin levels.

Incorporating relaxation techniques - like using a back scratcher - can be a great addition to your overall stress relieving arsenal. After a long day at work or when you feel an itch coming on whip out your Bearback and get a boost of serotonin... and enjoy your “happy hormone” hit!




Hannah Cobb, CNHP

Owner | Sustain Wellness