Why does scratching an itch feel good?

+23 votes
asked Sep 4, 2018 in Health & Wellness by Jorge (1,050 points)
edited Jul 7, 2019
I’ve got three kids and in the last few weeks they have all come down with chicken pox – which then led to (what felt like) a losing battle against trying to prevent them from scratching. When I’d tell them not to scratch, they’d say “but it makes it feel better”. Nothing I could say or do could convince these kids that they shouldn’t scratch. So why does scratching an itch feel good?

9 Answers

+28 votes
answered Jul 27, 2019 by ShawneeDejes (390 points)
edited Aug 8, 2019
We feel physical changes (pleasant or unpleasant) because our brains are wired to our nervous system and tell us what to feel. There was an experiment to see what parts of the brain react to something like scratching an itch and why we do this. They discovered that scratching an itch feels good because it activates the parts of your brain that deal with memory and pleasure. While doing this, it also slightly suppresses the areas that involve the sensation of pain and emotions. So this action is making your brain feel relieved from the itchy feeling, and taking away this painful or annoying feeling while in return make you feel good because you aren’t dealing with it any more.
+18 votes
answered Dec 2, 2018 by AngieCharlto (370 points)
edited Dec 27, 2018
Recent research done on the mechanism of the itching reveals an interesting activity in the brains. Scratching has shown to reduce activity in the brain areas, namely posterior cingulate cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. They are named posterior is involved in memory. The anterior on the other hand is the area that is active whenever we think of something unpleasant that has happened in the past. So scratching gives a good feeling because our brain blocks the emotions and misery associated to the brain.  In another study done, it is revealed that deep within the central nervous system is where the itching takes place, in the spinal cord, neurons called spinothalamic tract. The scratching calms these nerves and the itch is, therefore, relieved.
+17 votes
answered Apr 16, 2019 by LisaReeve263 (390 points)
edited May 13, 2019
Scratching feels amazing because, for a brief moment, it can trick our bodies into forgetting that we are itchy. Scratching your nails across your skin causes a minor pain sensation that temporarily distracts your brain. The problem is, whilst short term it feels good, long term, it causes more problems. Scientists now say scratching causes your system to release serotonin, which helps control pain but also, increases itchiness (it’s a vicious cycle!).
commented Sep 3, 2015 by MirtaDreyer9 (120 points)
Agree with this reason of why does scratching an itch feel good!
+9 votes
answered Jan 18, 2019 by HortenseZbq9 (360 points)
edited Mar 7, 2019
A 2012 research paper dubiously entitled “The Pleasurability of Scratching an Itch” (get your minds out of the gutter!) found that one of the itchiest spots on your body is the ankle and also found that “scratching pleasurability” was highest on the ankle. So scratching a really itchy itch feels really, really good. But the research provoked more questions about itching than it answered, since nerves transmit itch sensations and the legs have a lower nerve density than many other parts of the body.
+7 votes
answered Jul 28, 2019 by MuoiBottomle (440 points)
edited Aug 11, 2019
Why does scratching an itch feel good? The satisfaction is caused by the body production of the chemical serotonin. Scratching temporarily blocks the itching sensation, making it feel good. The “pain” that comes from scratching manages to distract the brain from feeling the annoying itch. The signals for pain are transmitted to the brain nerve like how itch is transmitted by another nerve cells set. When the brain gets the pain signals, the neurotransmitter serotonin is produced by the brain to help manage the pain, giving the good feeling. Then as this serotonin spreads from the brain, down the spinal cord, this chemical could hop over, moving from the neurons that sense the pain into the ones that influence itch intensity. The relief you are feeling is actually your pain receptors releasing a feel good chemical that helps the body to get distracted from the actual itch, albeit temporarily.
+6 votes
answered Feb 5, 2019 by CarrollMolin (320 points)
edited May 24, 2019
I think the main reason why does scratching an itch feel good is because it blocks the itching sensation, which in turn gives a pleasant feeling when the irritation goes away. Whether it feels like it directly or not, scratching causes pain at the surface level of the skin, but by causing this pain you are blocking the itchy feeling from continuing to go to your brain. It replaces itchiness with pain, but it’s not a pain that actually feels like what most of us would consider pain. More than anything it just acts like a disruption. Unfortunately, this is only a temporary fix because once the pain stops blocking the sensation, it would continue where it left off.
+5 votes
answered Aug 4, 2019 by MelodeeBoatw (310 points)
edited Aug 11, 2019
We scratch in the first place in order to remove irritants from our skin. It is similar to why animals scratch themselves too, in order to remove ticks from their fur in their case. The scratching reflects is now more of a sensor that something unfamiliar is touching our body. Scratching feels good because it blocks the itching sensation. Removing those irritants immediately gives you a relief sensation and also causes pain. The scratching interferes with the signals that are supposedly causing the itch and instead directing it to the pain receptors.
+2 votes
answered Apr 19, 2019 by ChasePrenzel (230 points)
edited Aug 4, 2019
There has to be something on or in our skin that is making it itch in the first place. So scratching an itch feels good sometimes because you’re moving around or getting rid of whatever it was that was causing the itch. It could have been a small bug or some particle of something that your skin didn’t like. Once it’s removed then the itching isn’t so powerful and intense, and this irritation going away will make your skin automatically feel relieved.
+1 vote
answered Sep 13, 2018 by SherleneDerh (210 points)
edited Feb 18, 2019
Why does scratching an itch feel good seems to be a question that a lot of scientists are working on. One obvious answer is that scratching can sometimes remove the source of the itch, for example, a bug crawling up your arm.

Scientists have also found that scratching interferes with the body’s ability to send itch signals through nerve cells to the brain; because the scratching activates pain sensors in the same area as the itch, it can override the itching sensation (a bit like a system overload for a computer).

Lastly, scratching can minimize activity in the areas of your brain that are related to memory and recalling bad experiences. As one of the research scientists described it, scratching “suppresses the emotional components and misery of pain”. So, in layman’s terms, scratching can relieve the anxiety that accompanies an itch.
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