Acupressure: A Safe Alternative Therapy

Peer Reviewed

Acupressure is a safe and gentle alternative therapy used to relieve symptoms from many common disorders. Unlike some forms of Western medicine, this therapy does not involve the use of any invasive techniques. A skilled practitioner simply uses their thumbs and fingers (sometimes the elbow) to exert pressure to specific body points.

AcupressureAcupressure is closely associated with other forms of Chinese medicine, such as acupuncture and shiatsu. The philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine originated about the year 600 BC when Taoism was developed; beliefs that center on the human connection to nature. It is believed the changes in nature (ie, weather) impact human lives mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Asian practitioners believe disease is caused by internal (emotional), external (weather), or other factors, including trauma or an unhealthy lifestyle. Many changes impact the body on a daily basis and affect the flow of qi (pronounced "chee"), or vital energy. Chinese medical theory sets forth to correct this balance and produce harmony within the body.

What is qi?
Unlike Western medicine that usually addresses a specific symptom or disease, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) views the entire body in terms of qi, its energy. When qi is flowing smoothly throughout the body, good health is enjoyed. However, if this flow of energy is blocked (ie, from trauma), acupressure can release qi to work toward restoring the body's balance.

Qi flows through channels located near the surface of the body. Another name for channels is meridians, or meridian points. There are 12 channels linked to specific organs, such as the liver, heart, and kidneys. Acupoints, or pressure points, are located on the channels (meridians). When precise pressure is exerted onto an acupoint, the gate is opened and qi flows through.

Think of qi in terms of blood circulating continually throughout the body to sustain life. If blood flow is blocked or interrupted, the affected part may starve from lack of oxygen and nutrients. The body responds by sending a warning signal in the form of symptoms. Some of these symptoms might include pain, inflammation, muscle spasm, or tingling sensations.

Meridians, Chinese medicineHow does acupressure work?
Acupressure works by placing pressure on specific points on the body to release qi. Application of pressure requires precision because some 365 points are located on the major channels, plus there are over 650 individual pressure points. Similar to the circulatory system's network of vessels, each channel has a network of connections.

Different techniques are used to affect qi in the channels. These techniques include tonify, disperse, and calm. Weak qi would require tonifying. Blocked qi would be dispersed, and overactive qi would be calmed.

The pressure administered is often held for several seconds to minutes. Pressure may be applied in circular movements, pushing the acupoint in and out, or a combination. Although the points manipulated may be sensitive, acupressure should not be painful. Depending upon the condition, treatment may be given every other day or a few times daily.

What conditions does acupressure treat?
Some conditions that benefit from acupressure include back pain, headache, fatigue, anxiety, stress and tension, feelings of melancholy, and immune system deficiencies. Studies have shown that certain types of pain are linked with feelings of anxiety and worry.

Although acupressure is not age-restrictive, people with high blood pressure and pregnant women should refrain from acupressure therapy. There are specific acupressure points that can cause miscarriage. Acupressure is not used to treat open wounds, scar tissue, varicose veins, or areas of inflammation or swelling. These problems can be treated in other ways utilizing TCM therapies (ie, herbs, oils).

Often back and joint pain is simply caused by poor posture. The neck is especially susceptible due to head and neck range of motion. Trauma can lead to soft tissue damage. Certain acupoints between the cervical spine (neck) and the top of the shoulder when treated with acupressure relieve pain. When the flow of blood is enhanced, toxins are flushed away, and oxygen and healing nutrients are provided.

Updated on: 08/25/16
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What is Acupuncture?
Regis W. Haid Jr., MD
Although many patients describe an improvement in their condition after acupressure, the Editorial Board is unable to endorse such treatment, as there is insufficient peer reviewed research available.
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What is Acupuncture?

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