What is Acupressure?
Acupressure is often called acupuncture without the needles. Instead of needles, acupressure involves the application of manual pressure (usually with the fingertips) to specific points on the body.
According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, the body has vital energy called "chi" or "qi" that flows along invisible lines of energy flow called meridians. There are thought to be at least 14 meridians connecting our organs with other parts of our body. Acupuncture and acupressure points lie on those meridians. If the flow of qi is blocked at any point on a meridian, it's thought to be the cause of ailments and lead to disease anywhere along the meridian. That's why a practitioner may apply pressure to an acupressure point in the foot to relieve a headache.
There is no scientific consensus on how acupressure might work. Some theorize that the pressure may promote the release of natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body, called endorphins. Another theory is that the pressure may somehow influence the autonomic nervous system.
Why Do People Try Acupressure?
Most people try acupressure for a specific ailment. Some of the more common ailments are:
- nausea and vomiting during pregnancy/ morning sickness
- motion sickness
- nausea after surgery
- nausea due to chemotherapy
- cancer-related fatigue
- menstrual cramps
- muscle tension and pain
Although more research is needed, studies examining the use of acupressure for nausea have generally found that it's effective at relieving nausea. All studies have used a particular point on the inside of the wrist called P6 for nausea.
Some of the advantages of acupressure to P6 for nausea are that it can be self-administered and it is believed to safe for pregnant women and those with cancer or other illnesses.
How is Acupressure Done?
Acupressure is often administered by an acupuncturist with the person receiving the acupressure lying on a massage table.
Acupressure can also be self-administered. Although it's best to consult an acupuncturist for proper instruction, acupressure is generally done by using the thumb, finger or knuckle to apply gentle but firm pressure to a point. The pressure is often increased for about 30 seconds, held steadily for 30 seconds to two minutes and then gradually decreased for 30 seconds. It's often repeated three to five times.
The point P6 can be found by turning the arm so that the palm is facing up. Place the thumb at the center of the crease of the wrist (where the hand meets the wrist) and then position it two finger widths away from the crease towards the elbow. The point is between the two large tendons.
Acupressure should never be painful. If you experience any pain, discontinue the session.
Pressure should be gentle over fragile or sensitive areas, such as the face.
People with osteoporosis, recent fracture or injury, easy bruising, bleeding disorders, circulatory problems from diabetes, and those using anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications such as Coumadin (warfarin) that "thin" the blood should avoid acupressure unless under the supervision of a qualified therapist.
Pregnant women should consult their doctor before using acupressure. Acupressure shouldn't be done on the abdominal area or to certain points on the leg if pregnant.
Acupressure shouldn't be done over open wounds, bruises, varicose veins, or any area that is bruised or swollen.
After an acupressure session, some people may feel soreness at the points. People may also feel temporarily lightheaded.
Ezzo J, Streitberger K, Schneider A. Cochrane systematic reviews examine P6 acupuncture-point stimulation for nausea and vomiting. J Altern Complement Med. (2006) 12.5: 489-495.