Acupressure is a form of body work in which therapists' fingers are placed on precise points along a system of energy channels in the body to deliver pressure. The energy channels are called meridians, and the same meridians and pressure points are used in acupuncture, a technique that uses needles instead of finger pressure. Like acupuncture, acupressure is a traditional therapy developed more than 5,000 years ago in Asia and remains a valued aspect of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that has come to be used widely in other parts of the world. Used historically for helping warriors and soldiers, the technique is noted in modern times for improving athlete stamina and endurance.
Contemporary research studies in Asian countries and the United States, and a comprehensive review conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2003, have evaluated acupressure and the use of specific pressure points to determine the effectiveness of acupressure and acupuncture in treating certain conditions and diseases. Conditions that may benefit from acupressure include chronic headaches and migraine, high blood pressure, motion sickness, nausea and vomiting associated with cancer treatment or anesthesia, muscle pain and stiffness, neck and back pain, osteoarthritis pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune diseases such as fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis, mental and emotional or mood disorders, stress, addiction recovery, and learning disorders.
Acupressure is also used to benefit the training of athletes in much the same way as acupuncture. In Chinese philosophy, which holds true in Chinese medicine as well, the polar opposites, yin and yang, are like positive and negative electric charges. Among athletes, yin is interpreted as rest and recovery, and yang is interpreted as engaging in athletic performance. Acupressure can help with both yin and yang aspects of athletics, whether recreational exercise or specific sports activities. Acupressure points on muscles and tendons can be stimulated to prevent injury. The immune system benefits to maintain overall health. The release of body energy is enhanced by acupressure, which influences the energy levels for exercise of any kind. The relaxation effect of acupressure may benefit athletes after exercise and help to restore muscle tone for continued training and performance.
In Chinese medicine, life energy is described as circulating through the body's cells, tissues, and vital organ systems in 12 major energy meridians. Along the path of each meridian are specific pressure points, or acupressure points, that serve as gates through which the energy passes. Chinese medicine proposes that energy is sometimes blocked at any of these specific points, eventually resulting in pain and illness of the associated organ system. In healthy individuals, a balanced flow of energy passes through the body without encountering blockages. Therefore, acupressure is performed to release blockages and stimulate the flow of unimpeded energy, which is intended to reduce inflammation and pain, repair damage, and return the body to health. Practitioners of conventional allopathic medicine do not always agree with the holistic principles behind acupressure (and acupuncture), but conventional medicine still shares the goals of acupressure, including to reduce pain, reduce inflammation, improve mobility, improve blood circulation, and restore body functioning to normal.
The twelve main meridians used in acupressure therapy and their corresponding pressure points are:
In addition to the pressure points and meridians listed above, 24 conception vessel (CV) points and 28 governing vessel (GV) points are used to increase blood flow, as well as 36 extra points (EX) with Chinese names designating different body parts. The acupressure practitioner decides which combinations of points to use based on each patient's symptoms and treatment goals.
Acupressure is also used in China and by some massage therapists and reflexologists to improve the appearance of facial skin. It has been shown to enhance facial muscle tone, strengthen connective tissue, and increase blood circulation to the face, tightening the skin of the face and reducing the appearance of lines or wrinkles without using drugs or surgery.
After an extensive review and analysis of multiple clinical trials involving acupressure/acupuncture, the WHO reported that stimulation of pressure points encouraged the central nervous system to release natural biochemicals that, in turn, reduced pain levels and restored the function of organ systems (e.g., central nervous system and the brain, respiratory system, digestive system, endocrine system). Acupressure is shown to have multiple beneficial effects, including:
Acupressure practitioners are trained by other acupressure practitioners, acupuncturists, or physicians, and in the United States and Europe, no governing body provides certification for acupressure therapists. Some states, however, require acupressure practitioners to be licensed in another health care field, such as nursing, medicine (MD, DO), chiropractic, acupuncture, or massage therapy before they can practice acupressure. Certificates of achievement in acupressure are provided by some massage therapy schools after the individual completes 150 hours of training and coursework. Individuals can often find an acupressure practitioner by searching online and sometimes by asking their primary care physician, osteopathic physician, chiropractor, or massage therapist about local acupressure therapists.
No special preparation is needed to undergo acupressure therapy. Patients remain fully dressed during the treatment and are usually advised to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing, such as those worn for exercise or yoga.
Therapy sessions with an acupressure practitioner usually begin with the patient lying on a massage table, face up, or sitting on a special reclining chair. An acupressure session may last from 45 to 90 minutes and may sometimes be done with a form of massage therapy. Different acupressure points will be chosen by the therapist based on the individual goals of treatment. Acupressure points may be used for the direct delivery of pressure from the therapist's fingers, and this may be accompanied by rhythmic massage techniques and pressure using fingers, hands, arms, and elbows. The patient will be encouraged to breathe deeply with slow, full breaths as the pressure points are manipulated. This will help to unblock stagnant energy that is sometimes associated with certain physical and mental conditions. Some acupressure therapists add guided imagery or visualization techniques to the acupressure therapy session to help the patient relax sufficiently to allow energy to flow through the pressure points.
When an acupressure session is over, the patient will be extremely relaxed and is advised to get up carefully to a standing position, making sure that muscles in the legs and trunk are energized and able to provide support. If any weakness is felt on the first attempt to stand, the therapist may ask the patient to sit for a while until feeling completely strong again.
The therapist will usually ask for the patient's feedback about the treatment and establish goals for the next scheduled session. Sometimes the therapist will teach the patient specific exercises or self-care practices so that the patient can manipulate acupressure points, as need, when at home.
Although acupressure is considered a safe, noninvasive technique, it should not be considered as the primary treatment for any serious illness. It should be applied with care during pregnancy because uterine contractions may be stimulated by pressure on certain pressure points or meridians; nevertheless, acupressure has been used safely to reduce the pain of labor and delivery. Although sports injuries to tendons or muscles can be treated directly, areas of the skin damaged by infection, burns, skin diseases, or cancer should not be treated with pressure.
Study results have shown that acupressure reduces pain, relieves fatigue, boosts energy levels, releases muscle tension, increases blood circulation, and boosts immune system activity to benefit overall health. The ability of acupressure to reduce pain has been reported to provide relief for patients with sports injuries, chronic headache, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic lower back pain. Depressed patients and those with other mental disorders have reported having greater mental clarity after acupressure treatments. Patients who have undergone acupressure report feeling deeply relaxed, relieved of chronic pain, able to sleep better, and more energetic.
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L. Lee Culvert