The Benefits and Uses of Acupressure

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Acupressure is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice that involves treating blocked energy, or qi, by applying manual pressure to specific points on the body. It is similar to acupuncture, except that it uses fingertip pressure instead of needles.

By improving energy flow, acupressure is said to help with a range of conditions, from motion sickness to headache to muscle pain.

Acupressure

 Garo / Phanie / Getty Images

This article looks at acupressure, its uses, and the evidence for its effectiveness. It also discusses safety and technique.

How Does Acupressure Work?

No one is sure exactly how acupressure might work. Some think the pressure may cause the release of endorphins. These are natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body.

Others think the pressure may influence the autonomic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary things like your heart, digestion, and breathing.

According to the principles of TCM, invisible pathways of energy called meridians flow within the body. At least 14 meridians are thought to connect the organs with other parts of the body.

Acupressure points lie along those meridians. If qi is blocked at any point on a meridian, it's thought to cause health problems along that pathway.

A practitioner applies pressure to specific acupressure points to restore healthy energy flow. The points they choose depends on your symptoms.

Given how meridians run, pressure points used may be a long way from the site of the symptom. For example, an acupressure point on the foot may be used to relieve a headache.

What Is Acupressure Used For?

Most people try acupressure to manage a condition, such as:

Benefits of Acupressure

Few studies have looked at the effectiveness of acupressure, but there is some evidence that suggests it may help.

In a 2017 study, researchers looked at the effects of acupressure on pain and anxiety. Subjects were athletes with a sports injury. On the day of the injury, researchers treated the subjects with one of the following or gave them no acupressure at all:

  • Three minutes of acupressure
  • Three minutes of a placebo treatment (sham acupressure applied to a false pressure point)

The study concluded that acupressure reduced pain compared to the sham treatment or no acupressure. There was no change in anxiety.

A 2017 review analyzed the results of three trials in chemotherapy patients. Researchers found that acupressure performed with fingers or an acupressure wristband decreased nausea, vomiting, and retching.

While these are promising results, another 2017 review of 22 clinical trials on acupuncture or acupressure for the induction of labor found no clear benefit.

Recap

There hasn't been much research into the effectiveness of acupressure. Some studies have found it to be helpful for pain and nausea.

A Typical Acupressure Session

Acupressure is often done by an acupuncturist. Depending on what points they need to access, you may sit or lie on a massage table during the session.

You can also do acupressure on yourself. It is best to learn proper technique from an acupuncturist.

In general, though, you apply pressure to a specific point using a thumb, finger, or knuckle. You can also use the tip of a pen. The pressure should be gentle but firm.

Increase the pressure for about 30 seconds. Then hold it steady for 30 seconds to two minutes. Next, gradually decrease the pressure for 30 seconds. Repeat three to five times.

The pressure point P6 is primarily used to treat nausea and vomiting. To find it, turn your hand palm up. Place your thumb at the center of where the hand meets the wrist. Move your thumb two finger-widths toward the elbow. The point is between two large tendons, which you should be able to feel as you apply pressure.

Recap

Talk to a qualified acupuncturist before you try doing acupressure on yourself. It is important to learn proper technique first.

Side Effects and Safety of Acupressure

Acupressure should never be painful. If you feel any pain, tell your therapist at once. 

Some people may feel sore or have bruises at acupressure points after a session. You may also feel lightheaded for a while.

Pressure should be gentle over sensitive areas, such as the face.

If you're pregnant, talk to your care provider before trying acupressure. During pregnancy, acupressure isn't usually done on:

  • The abdomen
  • Certain points on the leg
  • The lower back

Acupressure shouldn't ever be done over any of these areas:

If you have any of these conditions, talk to your healthcare provider before trying acupressure.

Summary

Acupressure is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy in which pressure is applied to a specific point on the body. It is done to free up energy blockages said to cause health concerns from insomnia to menstrual cramps.

There isn't much research into the effects of acupressure. Some studies do suggest it might help treat pain and nausea.

Acupressure can be done by an acupuncturist, though you can also try doing it yourself (with proper instruction). Ask your healthcare provider for a green light to try it if you are pregnant or are managing a health condition.

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