If you've ever had a backache or a headache, you know the relief that comes from rubbing just the right spot to ease the pain. According to an ancient practice called acupressure—a sort of needle-free version of acupuncture
—there are hundreds of spots all over your body that work the same way. Whether you're stressed-out, having trouble sleeping, or suffering from premenstrual syndrome
(PMS), most likely there is an acupressure point somewhere on your body that can be used to make you feel more comfortable. back to top
What is acupressure?
First practiced in India, China, Japan, and Korea, acupressure has been used for centuries to relieve medical problems by applying pressure with the fingers to certain points on the body. Acupressure practitioners believe there is a flow of energy inside your body that can become blocked, making you feel sad, frustrated, or anxious, or causing physical pain, such as a headache. Practitioners apply pressure to specific points on your body to unblock that energy and allow it to flow freely.
Unlike acupuncture, which uses needles to open up the energy in the body, acupressure tends to be used for short-term health issues, such as premenstrual syndrome
(PMS), minor muscle pain
, and nausea. Acupuncture, on the other hand, is used more for long-term conditions, such as asthma
—although it is used for prevention, not in emergency situations, like when someone is having an asthma attack. Some people also use regular acupressure treatments to help relax their mind and body and increase their energy level. back to top
How does acupressure work?
According to Eastern healing traditions, the energy inside your body flows along different pathways, called meridians. Your body has 12 of these meridians. They start at your fingertips and connect to your brain and all the different organs in your body. Along these meridians lie several pressure points, or acupoints. Acupoints are like small pools of energy. They are identified both by numbers and by the organs to which they are connected. For example, the acupoint called "spleen 6" is the sixth point along the spleen meridian. An acupressure practitioner uses his or her thumbs and fingers to apply pressure to each acupoint for about three minutes. back to top
What happens during an acupressure session?
During an acupressure session, you remain fully dressed and lie on a massage table. Your acupressure practitioner chooses different points on your body to press on gently, depending on your symptoms. You should be able to feel the pressure of the practitioner's fingers, but it should not hurt. If it does, tell your practitioner so that he or she can ease up a bit.
An average acupressure session lasts between 30 and 60 minutes. Many people need more than one visit to notice complete relief of their symptoms. A typical course of treatment may involve seeing an acupressure practitioner once a week for six visits. Spreading out treatment this way gives you time to see how you are feeling in between sessions.
The effects of some acupressure treatments last longer than others, depending on the person and the symptoms being treated. For example, you may be able to relieve a headache in just one session while treating anxiety could take six weeks. Eventually, many people decrease their visits over time from once a month to once every six months to once a year. back to top
Can I do acupressure at home?
If you learn where the different acupressure points are and how to apply finger pressure properly, you can try some acupressure at home to help relieve minor symptoms. It generally works best if you practice it in a warm room when you're relaxed. Below are some symptoms for which acupressure may help, along with some acupoints you can try yourself or with a friend. You can massage these points more than once a day if you have symptoms. If you think you may be getting sick, you can work these acupoints in advance to reduce your symptoms. However, if you have a more serious condition or your symptoms get worse, talk with an acupressure practitioner or your health care provider before continuing self-treatment.
- Hold the headache. If you need on-the-spot relief for a throbbing head, many people swear by one acupoint called (oddly enough) "large intestine 4," which is located on the webbing between your thumb and pointer finger. Working one hand at a time, use your opposite thumb to apply even pressure to this point for three minutes. Then switch sides.
"Bladder 10," which is located on the back of your head at the base of your skull, is believed to be effective in easing the pain and eyestrain that often goes with headaches. Using both thumbs, apply even pressure to bladder 10 on the left and right side at the same time, pressing each point up toward the opposite eye.
- Ease painful periods. Hormonal changes in your body during menstruation can cause cramping and increased blood flow. To ease these symptoms, applying pressure to "spleen 6" may help. Located on the inside of your leg, just above your ankle, spleen 6 is thought to have a strong influence on blood flow and may help stop pain in your abdomen.
"Liver 3," located on the top of your foot just under your second toe, is believed to help with muscle contractions and cramping. Apply pressure to points on the left and right side at the same time.
To ease the discomfort of bloating, which often comes with your period, apply pressure upward on "spleen 9," which you can find on the inside of your leg, just below your kneecap.
- Soothe the effects of stress. When you're stressed-out, it can affect your whole body, especially your shoulders and neck. To calm tense neck and shoulder muscles, apply pressure to "gallbladder 21," which is located halfway between your neck and your shoulder, directly in line with the nipple of your breast.
When stress causes emotional pain, such as crying and frustration, many people rely on relief from "gallbladder 41," which is believed to ease the mental discomfort of stress. To find this acupoint, follow the space between your fourth and fifth toe down your foot to the hollow spot just before your ankle. back to top