Photo Credit:
Photodisc/Thinkstock

Understanding Acupressure

This ancient healing art is used to relieve headaches, back pain and more
Written by 
Shawnee Barnes
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
October 31, 2013

Acupressure, like the related Chinese healing treatment acupuncture, is based on the principle that a person must maintain a healthy balance and flow of energy (qi) in order to stay well. Where acupuncturists insert slim needles at energy points along the body to stimulate them and correct the flow of qi, acupressure practitioners press on the areas to achieve similar results. A licensed therapist uses fingers, palms, elbows, feet or another object to press on the specific points that correspond to different organs, each of which sits on an energy channel known as a meridian. If energy, or qi, is blocked along any of those pathways, various symptoms and health concerns can arise.

Though acupuncture needles are virtually painless, some may prefer this non-invasive option. It may seem hard to believe that the simple application of pressure could help what ails you, but researchers in Taiwan found it to be more effective in reducing lower back pain than physical therapy (a combination of exercise, spinal manipulation, heat therapy and electrical stimulation). Additional studies on acupressure have shown promising results for other health concerns as well.

"Acupressure can be useful for helping treat asthma, allergies, gastrointestinal distress, lung conditions, upset stomach and irritable bowels."



Beyond back issues, acupressure is also used to: 

  • treat headaches, arthritis, fibromyalgia and post-operative pain
  • reduce anxiety, stress and depression
  • provide relief for asthma and allergy sufferers
  • reduce symptoms of upset stomachs and irritable bowel syndrome
  • relieve nausea, especially after surgery or chemotherapy
  • boost the immune system
  • ease and speed labor

Who Is Acupressure For?

Many people receive acupressure without concern, but it isn’t for everyone. Discuss the treatment with your doctor before going for your first session if you have any of the following conditions:

  • heart disease
  • uncontrolled diabetes or high blood pressure
  • blood coagulation problems, such as hemophilia
  • osteoporosis
  • recently broken bones
  • pregnancy
  • cancer (Though acupressure may treat the pain and nausea associated with cancer and chemotherapy, the American Cancer Society warns that it may be inappropriate for some cancer patients.)

Getting Started

  • Select a practitioner wisely. Make sure that your practitioner is licensed and experienced. Ask for recommendations, or search the directories of the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine or the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture to find a practitioner who is state licensed and has a national certificate in Asian Bodywork Therapy (ABT).
  • Wear comfortable clothing. Unlike massage therapy or acupuncture treatments, which may require you to undress, you’ll remain fully clothed during your acupressure appointment.
  • Be open. Your practitioner will ask about your condition—how long you’ve had it, when it causes symptoms, how you’ve been treating it—so be prepared to share. The more specific and thorough you can be, the better.
  • Ask about after-effects. While acupressure is non-invasive and has minimal risks, you may experience soreness or bruising at the pressure points. If you have any concerns about how you’ll feel after a treatment, discuss them with your practitioner before you begin.
  • Learn how to self-administer acupressure: A practitioner can expertly perform acupressure, but the treatment is something you can do on yourself, if you know how to do so properly. You may consider asking your practitioner if she can design a program for you to follow at home. Books and videos can also be helpful, but it’s best to consult a licensed practitioner first.
"Acupressure can be useful for helping treat asthma, allergies, gastrointestinal distress, lung conditions, upset stomach and irritable bowels."
Reference(s) 
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
National Institutes of Health
About the author 
Shawnee Barnes is a teacher and freelance writer who lives in Ithaca, New York. She writes about a variety of topics, including health and wellness.