School of Life Sciences | Ask A Biologist

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How do we sense touch?

Feeling Out the Problem

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  • Nerve: many neurons bundled together.
  • Sensor: a tool that senses physical properties, like motion of a person or object.


Damage to the spinal cord can prevent sensory information from reaching the brain. Such an injury can therefore can cause problems with touch and the other senses. Doctors rely on the organization of the nervous system to help treat patients who have problems with their senses.

Many nerves receive sensory information, but each nerve has only a small area from which it collects this information. These regions are called dermatomes. If a person has trouble with a particular sense of touch, doctors can try to narrow down what region, or dermatome, might be affected. Knowing what region is affected can help them diagnose what the problem might be.

The side of the body that is affected can also be a helpful tool for diagnosis. Sensory information travels through the spinal cord to the brain along very specific pathways. Imagine a highway where each sense travels in its own lane and cannot cross into another lane. Information for touch travels in a different pathway than that for pain. While this might not seem like a big deal, doctors can use this information to help treat patients.

These two pathways (touch and pain) travel in unique patterns up the spinal cord. Knowing which side of the body and what sensation is affected can help doctors locate where in the nervous system there may be a problem. 

The palm of the hand can sense more types of touch than any other part of the body. This information is then sent to the cervical part of the spinal cord. 

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The palm of the hand can sense more types of touch than any other part of the body. This information is then sent to the cervical part of the spinal cord. 

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.