How to use acupressure points to relieve headache, nausea and anxiety
Acupressure is an ancient practice from traditional Chinese medicine. It can seem mysterious because the theory is based on pressure points and energy channels in your body that you cannot see.
Acupressure uses the same framework as acupuncture. But acupressure does not use needles. You can do acupressure on yourself using only your fingertips.
We talked to MD Anderson acupuncturist Michael Spano to find out more about acupressure and learn how to use it for common problems like headaches, nausea and anxiety. Here’s what he said.
What is acupressure?
Acupressure is the application of pressure on specific points on the body to control symptoms such as pain or digestive issues.
It is used in some kinds massage therapy like the Japanese practice “Shiatsu.” It can also be done as part of an acupuncture treatment, or you can do acupressure on yourself.
What are the four pressure points, and how do they work?
In traditional Chinese medicine, the smooth flow of “Qi” through the body is essential to health. Qi is best defined as the life force that circulates around our bodies in 14 channels or meridians.
Pressure points are spots along these energy channels that can help free the flow of “Qi.” They are sometimes called acupoints.
Acupuncturists use the same pressure points, but they access them with needles. Acupressure simply involves pressing or massaging at the site of the point.
How do you do acupressure on yourself?
One benefit of acupressure is that you can do it on yourself. It can be applied on specific acupoints or used to cover an entire area like the foot or hand.
Follow these steps:
Locate the acupoint using the diagram.
Use your thumb or index finger to massage the acupoint with deep and steady pressure. Massage the point in a circular or up and down motion. Be careful not to remove the thumb or finger from the skin. Massage the point for one to two minutes.
Focus on nothing else except massaging the point while applying acupressure. Close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths.
Repeat acupressure as often as you would like.
If you want to use acupressure for a specific issue, always seek the advice of a licensed acupuncturist who is trained in acupressure.
And make sure you are in a safe place when performing acupressure on yourself. Do not apply acupressure during any activity where your safety may be at risk. For example, do not try acupressure while driving.
What is acupressure used to treat?
Research is limited, but acupressure has been shown to offer some help with pain conditions, including headaches. And there are acupressure bracelets, which can be used for nausea in conjunction with anti-nausea medications.
These wrist bands apply constant pressure to an acupoint on the wrist that is used to relieve motion sickness. The same point is used to relieve nausea during pregnancy.
How can acupressure help cancer patients and caregivers?
A few small studies have found acupressure may help reduce cancer-related fatigue and nausea. And there is research underway to find out if acupressure can help with nausea following surgery or chemotherapy.
In my experience, patients say that acupressure has reduced nausea related to chemotherapy. If you try the wrist bands, they should be applied 24 hours before chemotherapy and kept on for two or three days following the infusion. They should be removed while bathing.
Does acupressure cause any side effects?
Acupoints can be a little tender, and it’s normal to feel some achiness when you do the massage. But if it hurts, stop massaging right away. Avoid performing acupressure on areas where you have skin issues like dermatitis, recent radiation, stitches or a rash. Areas prone to lymphedema should be avoided, too, and some acupoints should not be used during pregnancy.
If in doubt, talk to an acupuncturist or massage therapist who is trained in acupressure.